Editor’ note: Every play in the Bard’s first folio is mentioned at least once in the following article - either by title, by allusion to dialogue, or by a discussion of its characters and …
Editor’ note: Every play in the Bard’s first folio is mentioned at least once in the following article - either by title, by allusion to dialogue, or by a discussion of its characters and plot. In the spirit of getting local youths excited about classic literature, we are pleased to announce a challenge for K-12 students in Rhode Island: the first to locate all the references and match them with the play (or whoever can find the most) will be crowned the Beacon’s Bard Buff and awarded two complimentary tickets to the Gamm Theatre or a gift card to The Riddle Room. Submissions may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org by March 28. A form is also available at the end of this story and may be mailed or dropped off at the Beacon, 1944 Warwick Ave., Warwick, RI 02889. Winners and answers will appear in our March 30 edition.
In Fair Centerville, Where We Lay Our Scene…
It isn’t often that students at Toll Gate High School are encouraged to tape rude messages to the library walls.
It’s even more unusual when that graffiti reads “Thou art a peevish, onion-eyed cankerblossom.”
“Our ‘Write Your Own Shakespearian Insults’ activity has been pretty popular,” said English Department chair Liz Norton, wearing a bright green shirt which advertised the return of the school’s “Shakespeare Day.” Although many libraries and colleges recognize the Bard on April 23 (both the date on which he was born in 1564 and died in 1616), school testing means that Toll Gate students were instead told to beware the Ides of March – or at least the Friday closest to it.
“When we first had the idea for Shakespeare Day, we had wanted to plan it for April,” Norton said. “But between spring vacation and educational assessments, we decided it would be easier to fit it in March. It breaks the month up in a nice way – and this year, it meant we could do a combo with St Patrick’s Day.”
Whilst I in Ireland Nourish a Mighty Band
Besides the teachers in verdant mantle clad, the celebration featured a number of Irish influences, ranging from green cupcakes to shamrock-bedecked laurel wreaths. Local musical education program Fiddle N’ Fun offered a live presentation blending Elizabethan and Celtic music - proving not only that music be the food of love, but even letting the students themselves ‘play on’ using single string violins called Fiddlestix. The performance group are regulars at Tollgate - lead fiddler Joel Beauchemin (by’r lady, a good musician) is the husband of Tollgate English teacher Jaclyn Laplante-Beauchemin.
“Activities like these are perfect for students who prefer hands-on learning - like me,” said senior Kayla Deleo. Her classmate Alison Paul agreed: although she admitted being a bit less than enthusiastic about reading Macbeth in the classroom, she said that Shakespeare Day changed her perspective on the Bard. “It doesn’t just break up the school day, it brings the material to life for us,” said Paul. These two gentlewomen of Warwick both selected
Shakespeare Bingo as their favorite event of the day, a game which required students to match quotes to the plays in which they first appeared.
There were roughly ten such activities, which were not confined to the library; indeed, all the third floor was a stage, with the boys and girls merely players in a race to collect stamps at each event. The most popular stop on the floor was the amply provisioned Refreshment Room - but gaining entry required students to have at least three stamps (nothing comes of nothing, after all). Rather than junkets or posset, the feast featured modern snacks donated by Dave’s Market and Antonio’s Bakery and ready for the greedy touch of common-snacking Titans.
Perhaps wisely, the school turned down an offer of pies from a certain Mr. Andronicus.
A Labour of Love, Lost for Two Years
This was Tollgate’s third Shakespeare Day, although it was the first since students were forced to exit, pursued by a planetary plague. At the end of the last celebration (on March 14, 2020), an announcement came over the loudspeaker to say that schools in Warwick would be closing “for a week, or possibly two” to wait for the Coronavirus to dissipate.
The course of quarantine never did run smooth, however; in the ensuing tempest, plans for Shakespeare Day had to be put on hold for two years. “It’s been great being able to do this again, especially since it’s the first time for almost all of the students,” said English teacher Sarah Evans. She noted that, measure for measure, the scale of this year’s event was the same as pre-pandemic celebrations.
The Tollgate Class of 2023 were the few (the happy few) Titans who had experienced Shakespeare Day before, and many were overjoyed to see it return. “That day was really one of the defining moments of my whole high school experience,” said Joshua Palmer.
“We didn’t know at the time how much it would mean to us to have that last special moment to share together right before that quarantine started. It gave us something to remind us all that we were still part of a community.”
All’s Well That Ends Well
The star of the show, of course, was Mr William Shakespeare himself - whom several students mentioned bore an uncanny resemblance to 10th and 12th grade English teacher Steve Belanger.
The Sage of Stratford-on-Avon entertained questions from students in a raucous game of ‘Stump the Bard.’ This year, no students were able to actually outsmart Shakespeare - though quite a few asked insightful enough questions to earn a polite round of applause from the playwright.
One bard-approved question: in what part of his body of work stands Ireland?
“I’ve mentioned the Irish in a few of my plays,” Bard-langer replied. “Mostly histories - the wars in Ireland are a subplot of Richard II, for instance. My references to the Irish aren’t always flattering. I have characters who say even less flattering things about the Jewish character Shylock. But then there are characters like Desdemona, whose love for Othello breaks racial boundaries. So it’s complex, but I’d say my work still ‘holds a mirror up to nature’ today.”
Those whose questions failed to impress Shakespeare, however, were nearly tossed out in the Corio-lane-us.
“Give me a lusty chortel from the front row!” the visiting poet demanded after a particularly goofy question, as “boo’s” echoed through the classroom. “Bear home that lusty blood again, lads!”
After the class, Belanger mentioned how grateful he was that Shakespeare Day had made a successful return.
“We only had celebrated twice before the pandemic, so this easily could have been a tradition lost in the Covid memory hump,” he said. The teacher says that his connections with Shakespeare are more literary than theatrical: although Belanger has played the Bard at Toll Gate in the past, he generally tries to channel Shakespeare through writing his own fiction rather than through stage performance.
“I can never get the accent quite right. Shakespeare wrote right in the middle of the Great Vowel Shift, so it’s a complicated linguistic topic. I wish I could master the inflection,” he mentioned (though he did not go so far as to offer his kingdom in the exchange).
One of Belanger’s noble kinsmen in the English Department, Amanda Brown, was in character as the high and mighty princess of England, Elizabeth. “My mother helped make the costume,” Brown said. Although the bow she made was regal, the language of her eye betokened a bit of fatigue. “The rope we used to make the carriage is getting a bit heavy to carry around after a few hours, though.”
Such are the burdens royalty has to bear, however; even Pericles could tell you that being prince is tyreing.
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