Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024
The Observer

Event brings sonnets to life

For the fifth straight year, Shakespeare at Notre Dame will throw its unique Valentine’s Day celebration, SonnetFest, which features public readings of all 154 of Shakespeare’s sonnets.

Scott Jackson, executive director of Shakespeare at Notre Dame, said SonnetFest, which runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday, offers a fun and engaging way to celebrate Valentine’s Day and experience the Bard’s work.

“It’s just a way to commemorate Valentine’s Day with some of Shakespeare’s most well-known poetry and also to engage the campus population with Shakespeare, lifting it up off the page and bringing it into the air, which I think is really important with Shakespeare,” Jackson said.

Peter Holland, associate dean for the arts in the College of Arts and Letters and one of the event’s founders, said SonnetFest provides a fresh yet classic take on Valentine’s Day.

“I wanted to link it to Valentine’s Day, giving people a chance to listen to some of the greatest explorations of love, not just as joy but also as an experience of anger, despair, insecurity, anxiety,” Holland said. “This is a long way from the trite poetry in Valentine cards.”

Jackson said the diversity of the readings attempts to reflect the diversity of the Notre Dame community. He said in years past, people have read in languages ranging from the familiar to the fictional.

“Every year is a little bit different,” Jackson said. “We try to make the readings as diverse as possible since we have so many different cultures here and so many people studying so many different languages, as well. We watched it kind of progressively grow into this campus tradition.

“We’ve had readings in English, obviously, French, German, Spanish, Russian, Filipino, Italian, Morse Code, Parseltongue and Klingon,” Jackson said. “I would say there have been twelve of fifteen different languages spoken during the readings.”

Jackson said the event takes place in the Great Hall of O’Shaughnessy Hall, which creates a constantly changing and energetic environment.

“One of the great things about doing it in the Great Hall of O’Shag is that there’s so much traffic going through,” Jackson said. “We could go from having two people watching to having 100 people watching in five minutes, just based on the flow of people coming to and from classes. It really fluctuates.”

While the event’s location in O’Shaughnessy Hall makes it easily accessible to students and faculty, Jackson said SonnetFest also makes Shakespeare’s words accessible to the entire Notre Dame community.

“It’s a very non-intimidating way to approach Shakespeare in performance,” he said. “It’s a nice way to engage the student population in something that might intimidate them a little bit. What we’ve been able to do is create a very supportive, nurturing environment.”

Jackson said perhaps the most important message of the event, especially as a celebration of Valentine’s Day, is the unitive quality of Shakespeare’s work.

“There’s something in Shakespeare for everyone, and so that universal nature of his work draws people from all facets of life together,” he said.