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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Happy Birthday to the Bard!

Written by Jon Williams

On this day 450 years ago, William Shakespeare was born. And on this day 398 years ago, he died. In between, in his exactly 52 years of life, he created many of the finest works of literature and drama in the English language.

Being so long ago, the chronology of Shakespeare’s work is difficult to nail down with any accuracy. However, it is widely believed that the historical plays Richard III and Henry VI are his earliest works, likely written in the early 1590s. Shortly thereafter, the mid-1590s saw Shakespeare writing a number of his great comedies, including A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado about Nothing, As You Like It, and Twelfth Night. These are balanced, of course, by fantastic tragedies like Julius Caesar, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth—not to mention Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet, two of the best-loved and most-performed plays of all time.

Of course, reading or hearing Shakespeare’s plays read is just one way to savor the Bard’s genius. Seeing them performed onstage is yet another. For the truly dedicated and ambitious, the BBC offers a 37-volume DVD set comprising recorded performances of all of Shakespeare’s plays. For the less ambitious, each of those volumes is available individually as well, as are many different versions of both his most famous and his lesser-known works.

In addition to staged performances, Shakespeare has provided plenty of inspiration for Hollywood over the years. One of the most recent instances is Joss Whedon’s acclaimed 2012 production of Much Ado about Nothing, filmed at his own house. Other notable examples include two versions of Hamlet— the essential 1948 version starring Sir Laurence Olivier as the Danish prince, and the 1990 version starring Mel Gibson—and Baz Lurhmann’s 1996 adaptation of Romeo + Juliet, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes as the star-crossed lovers. And there are a number of films that take the premises of Shakespeare’s stories and repurpose them, like Kiss Me, Kate and 10 Things I Hate About You, both based on The Taming of the Shrew, and any number from Romeo and Juliet—among them West Side Story and the 2013 zomromcom Warm Bodies.

And all this is just scratching the surface of the sheer wealth of material by, about, and adapted from Shakespeare and his works (after all, we haven’t even mentioned his sonnets). For plenty more, be sure to SmartBrowse ‘Shakespeare’ on our website. And be sure to let your Bard-loving patrons know that a number of his plays are available in audiobook form on hoopla, as well as some other materials they may find interesting.

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