Wednesday, February 20th, 2019

400 years later, Shakespeare’s memory stays alive in Portland

Amanda Melanson

Posted on March 22, 2016 in Arts & Culture
By USM Free Press

Amanda Melanson

By Amanda Melanson

The works of William Shakespeare are so deeply woven into the English-speaking world that most folks are unaware of the extent of its impact. This April 23rd marks the 400th anniversary of the passing of The Bard, and the Portland area is not letting the event go off without a bang. Three events will be taking place, throughout the month of March into April. Portland currently houses an important artifact called the “First Folio” that is currently being showcased at the Portland Public Library. The book itself is hundreds of years old, hand bound, and contains numerous single copies of Shakespeare’s works, both well known and lesser . The First Folio will be showcased at 5 Monument Way – on the corner of Congress and Elm Streets – until April 2.

Further events to celebrate the anniversary include a showing of Shakespeare’s famous Macbeth which is currently being performed throughout the month of March by Bare Portland. Tickets are currently still for sale and priced at $10.

According to Bare’s website, Bare’s mission is to create “a performance collaborative focused on community building through site-specific creative projects,” and to “create high caliber theatrical productions open to all members of the Portland community to foster empathy and inclusiveness.”

From March 31 to April 10, the Portland Shakespeare Company, will be performing Richard II at the Immanuel Chapel at St. Luke’s Cathedral, located at 143 State Street in Portland. Tickets are on sale and currently priced at $20. Richard II is a story of a monarch, whom since childhood believes himself to be God’s ruler of England. But his vanity threatens to send everything crumbling. General Admission for the show can be purchased online or at the door.

Professor Benjamin Bertran of the English Department teaches several classes on Shakespeare at USM. He gave a lecture on Shakespeare earlier in the week.

“There were many reasons people went to see Shakespeare in his own day, and one of them was definitely his inventiveness and experimentation with words. I think we still feel a fascination with Shakespeare’s words, even though English has changed considerably since he wrote the plays,” explained Bertran.  “I will say that – and I realize this is just my bias as an English professor – we can’t truly appreciate Shakespeare until we have struggled with and, as a result come to take pleasure in, his language.”

Bertran also encouraged a visit to the Portland Library, for anyone looking to gain more knowledge. The way we consume Shakespeare is vastly different from when he was alive. Rather than attend plays in large amphitheaters, we consume Shakespeare everyday in the form of books, movies and audio. Each coming generation in the 400 years since Shakespeare’s death has gotten to consume his work in a different way, with a different set of cultural lens to color his plays. Yet, there remains a brutal timelessness about it.

“Think about how our media has changed and how that has changed our experience of Shakespeare. In many ways these changes are for the better,” said Bertran. “Think of how we can now read the First Folio as an ebook on a website. I like to be optimistic about the way our new technologies keep Shakespeare alive.”

The library made sure to impress the importance of this through their updated murals around the exhibit, decorated with quotes from Shakespeare and themed furniture and displays. One such mural had quotes from Romeo and Juliet. It also modernized the ancient story by making it into “tweet” form.

While at the exhibit, Volunteer Kristen Voyvodich gave guests a first hand look at the hand bound tome, published seven years after Shakespeare’s death. The First Folio is the first collection of plays in the history of English Literature and is comprised completely of plays only.

Voyvodich added that without this volume that “It is possible that The Tempest would not have been published. Plays were not considered literature in Shakespeare’s time and were considered lesser than other forms. Eighteen o    f Shakespeare’s plays including Julius Caesar and Macbeth might not have survived history, were it not for this Folio. It took five compositors two years to print 715 copies of these folios. Each copy is unique – including mistakes.”

Voyvodich also made mention that several original copies of actor’s lines got ruined when they had been destroyed by cannon fire during a play. This particular original copy of Shakespeare’s works was carefully placed in a temperature controlled encasement of glass, using silica to maintain an even temperature so as to preserve the pages. Guests were instructed not to touch the glass, so as not to trip any alarms or disturb the book.

Marc Voyvodich, visiting the exhibit in support of his daughter, said “It’s a remarkable opportunity for the people in this community to be in touch with the shared heritage that goes back to England and Shakespeare. I don’t think anything like this has ever happened before, here in Portland. I’ve been to Stratford upon Avon and Shakespeare’s grave. It’s nice to be able to get in your car and be reconnected to history.” Earlier in the exhibit, he enthusiastically instructed those waiting to visit the presentation to tell his daughter how brilliant it was – something none found hard to do.

Miss Voyvodich, who has a Masters in Shakespearean Literature, has been studying The Bard for a while. She wants to stress that it is no small deal that the First Folio is in Portland. An extremely rare object is available for the public to gawk at, and it’s just on Congress Street. Without The First Folio, our language and culture would absolutely be different.

“As the first collection of plays in history of the English, it is significant as an artifact from Jacobian times. It shows a moment in time where theater was becoming part of literature. All 18 of Shakespeare’s plays that are bound in the book would have been lost were it not for this book,” said Miss Voyvodich.

“The fact that it’s in Portland is incredible. The amount of access you get by it being in a public library is great because it gives an introduction that someone might not otherwise have.”

After the exhibit, guests were encouraged to visit the guest shop where Shakespeare texts and information was provided, along with other unrelated memorabilia. Voyvodich also mentioned that the group prior was much smaller and that she was “hopeful to see more turn out to explore the exhibit.”


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