Most English classes end their time with Shakespeare’s literature when the final line is read aloud and the artistic book cover is finally closed. But what happens when the ancient kingdoms, vibrant characters and clever phrasing are brought off the page for an entire day?
This was the opportunity offered as part of Toll Gate High School’s second annual Shakespeare Day celebration, an all-day event held this past Friday chock full of activities for students to learn more about the life and times of William Shakespeare and his timeless contributions to literature. Once a celebration kept just to the library, this year’s celebration took up an entire hallway on the school’s upper floor as students, armed with purple activity sheets, came during their scheduled English period to engage in a little Renaissance fun.
A man of mystery, from his own personal life to the intricate symbolism of his many great works, William Shakespeare’s wit and irony have resulted in a monopoly on the English curriculum for centuries. Known for producing masterpieces such as Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet and The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, amid countless others, the playwright gained prominence during the English Renaissance era as a result of Queen Elizabeth I’s patronage of the arts in England.
With generations old and new becoming acquainted with Shakespeare throughout their high school English curriculums, teachers at Toll Gate hoped to not only excite students about the writings of Shakespeare but to encourage them to employ their knowledge in order to showcase their skills during trivia games. While several classic staples returned from last year - including a Shakespeare-themed Jeopardy contest and a photo booth - many new additions were made based on feedback from students last year, displaying that the celebration has taken on a life of its own within the community.
Most notably, a Capulet Ball was staged this year in a classroom livened up with ribbons, live music, and a photogenic balcony pulled straight out of Romeo and Juliet’s famous second act. Additionally, English teacher Jacyln Laplante-Beauchemin and her husband Joel attended the Capulet Ball in Renaissance attire to set the stage for a high-class social event true to the centuries past - Joel, who runs the children’s music education program Fiddle N’ Fun, provided a violin performance for the attendees.
“Shakespeare influenced the English language and our literary heritage,” wrote Elizabeth Noren, a teacher of advanced literature who currently serves as the head of Toll Gate’s English department and who played a key part in organizing the celebration. “We take the study of his plays seriously, but what he did with language was playful.”
One station in the library, which featured a series of insults taken from across Shakespeare’s plays, challenged students to combine them and create the most outlandish phrases. While choosing from words like “onion-eyed,” “lily-livered,” and “canker-blossom,” students could appreciate the light-hearted side of the classics while also seeing the more serious side of the language - the next table over featured translations of elaborate Elizabethan words such as “perchance,” “gramercy” and “aroint.”
Students were also encouraged to bring out their inner thespian at the “Charades and Frozen Scenes” station, where lines from a selected play were wordlessly acted out until onlookers could identify the quote from a list.
“What makes an event like this rewarding is that we cast a wide-net and reach a lot of kids,” Noren added. “We plan daylong events for over a thousand students. There's something for everyone.”
As has become typical for the program, Toll Gate’s English teachers didn’t stop at just attending the celebration - they actively threw themselves into the roles of figures present during the life and times of Shakespeare himself.
Steve Belanger, an English teacher and coach of Toll Gate’s Academic Decathlon team, reprised his role this year as Shakespeare himself. Donning a ruffled white collar and a hat true to the time period, Belanger challenged students to “Stump the Bard” with impromptu questions about the life and times of the great playwright himself. He also offered first-hand information regarding historic occurrences such as the bubonic plague, which was known to frequently result in the closing of theaters during the Elizabethan era.
Noren also applauded the efforts of fellow teacher Amanda Brown, who appeared in full regalia as Queen Elizabeth I of England to preside over the ceremony and add a glimpse of historical insight to the era that inspired Shakespeare’s works.
Previously, the event was held on April 23rd to commemorate the day historians believe to be William Shakespeare’s birthday; however, Noren said this year’s celebration was moved up to March to avoid conflicts with standardized testing. Fortunately, holding the event this past Friday meant that it fell on the last day of school before the Ides of March: the notorious day where Julius Caesar died at the hands of traitorous Roman senators, as dramatized in Shakespeare’s famous play, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar.
“We hope to hold this event every year,” wrote Noren regarding the tradition’s future. “We have already started to brainstorm ways to make it better. Each year we will add something on, or change things up.”
After participating in at least three activities, students were able to redeem their completed activity sheets for snacks at the Elizabethan Banquet. The English Department would like to thank the local businesses that donated food for the event, including Antonio’s Bakery, Gregg’s, Pizza Hut and the WTU 25 Week Club.