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Mace & Crown | March 29, 2017

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Shakespeare Festival Inaugural Reception Celebrates Poet’s Local Legacy

Shakespeare Festival Inaugural Reception Celebrates Poet’s Local Legacy
Elizabeth Proffitt
Staff Writer

The inaugural reception of Old Dominion University’s “Shakespeare Four Hundred Years After: A Public Event” was held Thur. April 14 at the Ted Constant Convocation Center.

Speakers at the reception included assistant professor of foreign languages and literature Elizabeth Black, University President John R. Broderick, professor of English Imtiaz Habib and the executive director of the Virginia Commission for the Arts, Margaret Vanderhye. Plenary speaker Alan H. Nelson from the University of California, Berkley, also presented.

Vanderhye was the first to speak, bringing greetings and congratulations from Governor Terry McAuliffe and the Virginia General Assembly. The governor has declared April 23 Shakespeare Day in Virginia and the General Assembly declared 2016 the year of Shakespeare in Virginia.

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President Broderick speaks at the Shakespeare Festival Inaugural Reception. Photo by Josef Hicks

Vanderhye explained her personal connection to the festival as she recalled her introduction to Shakespeare as a ninth grade student.

“The play that our English teacher chose was ‘Julius Caesar’ and in retrospect, it was perfect for ninth graders in their first year of high school,” Vanderhye said.

In her speech, Vanderhye summarized the importance of the festival and the humanities in general. “You will be spending a lot of time this week thinking about how and why we still find Shakespeare so fascinating and so relevant,” Vanderhye said.

“William Shakespeare had a gift of bestowing upon his characters all the foibles and weaknesses and vulnerabilities and sensitivities that his audience found in themselves, traits that were universal to the human condition well before the 1600s and will be, I would argue, well after the 21st century,” Vanderhye said.

President Broderick spoke next, marveling at the influence Shakespeare still has today. The president also expressed his pride in being able to host the festival on our campus.

“Who knew then that William Shakespeare would be alive and well on the front page of the student newspaper in Norfolk, Virginia?” Broderick said.

“We’re certainly all here on campus proud to host this important gathering. [Shakespeare is] a central figure in our cultural legacy and our everyday life, especially here in Virginia and beyond all borders,” Broderick said.

President Broderick elaborated on the importance of the festival in the community.

“‘The Shakespeare Four Hundred Years After’ event is also an occasion for us to illustrate our commitment to the role of humanities and arts in public life today and to illustrate how those disciplines can enhance our pursuit of a productive, meaningful life,” Broderick said.

Dr. Habib delivered the opening address. He reiterated Shakespeare’s cultural connection to the Tidewater area.

“We take our cue and set our scene in Virginia, here 40 miles or so from where, not Shakespeare, but the people from his world landed in a project that was conceived by people with whom he was in close contact,” Habib said.

“If the Shakespearian legacy has been handed down to us, we need to ask what has that legacy made us today,” Habib said. “The Shakespeare that we want to remember is not the perfect poet and ultimate human being, but the imperfect writer whose works struggle between the glory and venality of the human.”

Plenary speaker Nelson closed the reception, discussing the connections Virginia has to one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, “The Tempest,” which features a shipwreck some scholars theorize was based on the passage to Jamestown. Nelson’s words enlightened the audience to our personal, local connections to the celebrated bard.

The reception culminated with a question and answer portion. The presentations cemented the cultural importance of Shakespeare in Virginia and all over the world.