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The first time I read “Hamlet,” I thought it was over­rated.

I’m a Philistine, I know. But, now that I’ve seen “Hamlet” per­formed mul­tiple times both on stage and screen, I am reformed –– I love it as a thing of beauty.

Reading the Bard’s work only, and not per­forming it as well, sells Shake­speare short. Shakespeare’s plays are for per­forming, his poems for pas­sionate reading.

The rhetorical richness of a Shake­spearean sonnet or martial speech cannot be grasped without oral pre­sen­tation. An excerpt from one of his plays, even read aloud, does not possess the power found in the com­plete per­for­mance of the work.

You should par­tic­ipate in Shake­speare, whether in the Arb or not.

Shakespeare’s works should not be per­formed just because they are written so. Rather, they should be per­formed for the same reasons that his plays and poems make such rich studying within the “Studia Human­i­tatis.”

Playing a role in a Shake­speare play places you in the midst of history. The very nature of the play presents a rich view of Eliz­a­bethan and King James’ England. Por­traying a char­acter in Shake­speare trans­ports the actor back in time and back in mind.

Reciting the poetry of Shakespeare’s words or owning them as a char­acter in the play forces you to inter­nalize the beauty more than simply reading aloud does. As the mer­curial phrases dance and roll across the tongue not only is your speech ele­vated, but your thought is as well.

Not every Shake­spearean role is ele­vated. Not all actors play Hamlet. In high school I per­formed the parts of Sir Toby Belch in “Twelfth Night” and Bottom the Weaver in “A Mid­summer Night’s Dream.” Sir Toby Belch lives up to his name as a belching drunkard. Bottom lives up to his own name as well. The man is an ass.

While the char­acters of Belch and Bottom are not them­selves ele­vating, and while their lines consist mainly of ridiculous jokes, the roles teach much. Shake­speare engi­neers scin­til­lating puns and allu­sions into their lines: ref­er­ences to Greek mythology and clas­sical lit­er­ature. Ques­tions of phi­losophy and ethics shape the char­acters and move the plots forward.

Admit­tedly, the ele­ments of clas­sical, medieval, and modern liberal arts and humane studies can be dis­covered and inter­nalized through the aca­demic study of Shake­speare. But, the human side of Shake­speare, the catharsis, the vic­arious living and lesson learning, is only found in the per­for­mance. Becoming the char­acter, acting, ushers you into Shakespeare’s world of poetry, rhetoric, phi­losophy, ethic, lit­er­ature, and the rest. You become part of the story and it of you.

As Shake­speare says in “As You Like It”: “All the world’s a stage, / And all the men and women merely players; / They have their exits and their entrances, / And one man in his time plays many parts.” You are all actors. Per­forming Shake­speare is practice for life.

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From Portland, Oregon. He serves as the paper’s Associate Editor. Meadowcroft is majoring in history and participates in theatre and is on the editorial board of the Tower Light literary publication. Meadowcroft has also worked for the American Spectator. He hopes to write after college on arts and culture, international affairs, travel, theology, and politics. email: mmeadowcroft@hillsdale.edu | twitter: @micahmuses