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Mace & Crown | June 25, 2017

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Celebrating 'Shakespeare Four Hundred Years After: A Public Event'

Celebrating ‘Shakespeare Four Hundred Years After: A Public Event’
Elizabeth Proffitt
Staff Writer

Old Dominion University will be hosting the weeklong festival “Shakespeare Four Hundred Years After: A Public Event” April 13- 20. It marks the 400-year anniversary of Shakespeare’s death with events honoring and connecting the bard to today’s world.

The festival was the brainchild of Imtiaz Habib, English professor and Shakespeare scholar, who believed it was important to recognize this anniversary but also to broaden the topic and connect it to life today.

“The object of the event is not just to worship Shakespeare, but to connect Shakespeare’s influence to Virginia because it was his world that came here in 1607 and the result through a series of consequences, is us. Here we are today,” Habib said.

This ability to make personal connections influenced how the events and speakers were chosen.

“We wanted to make this not just a celebration but an event in the cultural horizon of this state that something that people will remember in public discourse,” Habib said.

The festival has a varied list of events, including a scholarly conference as well as plays and musical performances to give festival attendees a well-rounded and entertaining experience.

“It’ll have many levels in it, so those who have a scholarly interest in this, we have the conference. Those who are historically minded, we have an exhibition here in the Gordon Galleries as well as a documentary that I produced that will trace the effects of Shakespeare on Virginia,” Habib said.

The festival has gained statewide recognition.

celebrating shakespeare“The state got involved in such an initiative headed by the Virginia Foundation for Humanities, about six months after we started to coordinate all the activities and were bowled over because it turns out we were the biggest festival,” Habib said. “We’ve had some struggles getting everything together but all’s well that ends well, right?”

One of the main events of the Shakespeare Festival is the “Shakespeare and Our Times Conference” which runs from April 14-16. It will feature scholars from all over the world, who were chosen through a paper selection process.

Conference committee member Elizabeth Black, assistant professor of foreign languages and literatures, explained the selection process.

“When we got all the proposals together, it was a question of just seeing which papers would actually fit well together as panels. So do we have a theme running to try and make a cohesive panel where the scholars whose interests are similar enough could have a dialogue on that day,” Black said.

Black also said she believes it is important to make connections, personal or historical, through this conference and in general in Shakespeare’s influence and the present time.

“The society we see today that was built out of that colony [Jamestown] really can see its origins in Shakespeare’s world. I think that also the range of topics and the range of human experience that you see and feel in his plays, from love to loss, et cetera. Even though these plays were written so long ago, we still feel that. Those things don’t change,” Black said.

The preparations for the festival are in the final stages of completion and it’s been a labor of love trying to tie up loose ends.

“There’s always a last minute rush at the end when all the logistics you’ve been planning for two years come together, and you also have to think about it from a visitors perspective especially being involved with the conference because we have people coming from across the country and across the world,” Black said.

The conference’s main theme sums up the real need for this festival on campus and in the community.

“The question we’re really interested in is what does Shakespeare mean for us today and why? How do scholars work with Shakespeare and how do they make him relevant for our times?” Black said.

For each person, Shakespeare can mean many different things and that is ultimately the reason why this festival is so important.

“Shakespeare means wonder and marvel. It means hearing something that can transport you and I think we look for that in our media and we look for it all over and a Shakespeare play can still do that,” Black said.

Find the schedule of events here.