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"Hamnut", played by St. Anselm College senior Ethan Lawrence, and "Gertrude", played by STA English Prof. Ann Horton, act out a scene from their version of Hamlet entitled, "Hamnut", put on by the group Duke's Dawg's at St. Anselm College Tuesday as part of the school's Shakespeare Sonnet Reading event. (Mark Bolton/Union Leader)

449 years later, and still a blast


MANCHESTER - How do you celebrate the Bard's birthday?

Students, faculty and alumni at Saint Anselm College seemed to have the right idea on Tuesday: with readings of William Shakespeare's sonnets, the performance of scenes from his plays, chamber music - and a big birthday cake.

The college marked Shakespeare's 449th birthday in an event that itself has become a venerable tradition

For the past 25 years, the event has been organized by longtime English professor Gary Bouchard, who serves as the master of ceremonies.

"One of my subversive goals is to get people not normally interested in poetry interested in it," he said. "If you can get someone who's an English major that's great, but if you can get someone who works in the physical plant, that's something. It's about getting poetry out of classroom and into public square for a day."

Shakespeare, considered the foremost writer and dramatist in the English language, was born in 1564 and died April 23, 1616.

Much of the day-long event was taken up by what might be called a sonnet-palooza: a reading of all 154 of Shakespeare's sonnets.

The event also featured performances of scenes from "Macbeth," a 7.5 minute version of "Hamlet" and a performance early modern music by the Saint Anselm Chamber Music Ensemble.

Normally held outside in the quad, the event was in the Cushing Center due to the wet weather.

The presenters included students, alumni and faculty.

One was physics professor Ian Durham, who stepped to the stage to read Sonnet 123, a favorite of his because it's about "defying time."

The poem concludes with the line: "This I do vow and this shall ever be; I will be true, despite thy scythe and thee."

Durham noted that some in his field have theorized that time doesn't exist.

"Most physicists I know are into Shakespeare," said Durham, who noted he keeps a copy of his complete works in his office. "Physicists are a funny lot. We have a tendency to be broadly interested in things."

Bouchard said he believed students were just as capable of understanding and being moved by Shakespeare as ever, even in the age of Twitter and instant-messaging - and it's an appreciation that will last.

"If someone can get past it at this age, they're past it forever. For someone like a hockey player to a read sonnet, it's amazing, and they'll do it a second or third time," he said.

tsiefer@unionleader.com

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