“Medicine, law, business, engineering: these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love… these are what we stay alive for.”
In the 1989 drama film “Dead Poets Society,” English teacher John Keating, played by Robin Williams, proclaims these words to his students while encouraging them to find inspiration through the eyes of poetry.
Now, Hillsdale students have started a club so their “barbaric yawps” can be heard all over campus.
The group joins artistic and literary pursuits in exploration of the highest virtues Hillsdale preaches. It is formally known as the “Shakespeare Society.”
Their mission is to gather, teach, and enjoy the Bard’s most influential works.
“It’s always been a very casual club,” co-president Sienna Clement said. “Over the course of 15 to 20 years, it’s become more official, but it has this ethos of being amateur people who just really love Shakespeare, admire language, and are just participating.”
The club meets weekly to read Shakespeare plays and in the spring, the society sponsors “Shakespeare in the Arb,” an annual play performed, directed, and facilitated entirely by students.
“The club started out as a stage reading society,” co-president Amelia Rasmusen said. “They would hold a big stage reading, and it gradually mutated into a society that puts on one production a year.”
This semester, the club will perform their rendition of “A Winter’s Tale,” set between the 1950s and ’70s. As the director, Rasmusen has the job of taking amateur students and giving them an outlet to express their love of Shakespeare.
“We’re setting the first half of the play in the ’50s, because it’s set in Sicilia which is a place with a very strict hierarchy,” Rasmusen said. “The play includes a man accusing a woman of adultery and her having no power because of the patriarchy. The second half is set in the 60s and 70s which is a very hippie, free loving, less hierarchical time.”
The play will be performed on April 25 in the Slayton Arboretum. Students said they are eagerly preparing and excited by the prospect of putting their own spin on a classic.
“There’s something very grassroots about it,” Clement said. “We have very low budget costumes, but it’s exciting to perform Shakespeare in a way that feels kind of folksy and informal.”
The society gives students a chance to speak the great poet’s words out loud — an entertaining and intellectually stimulating activity.
“It’s pretty simple,” Rasmusen said. “We just want to read Shakespeare.”
Students from all backgrounds join together in their love of Shakespeare and many even develop an interest in theatre as a whole through the annual performance.
“We have several English and theatre majors participating this year,” Clement said. “There’s quite a few theatre people who became theatre people through the Shakespeare society.”
Though Shakespeare’s genius is universally recognized, the Society’s specific and intense readings give students the chance to grow in their love and understanding of the poet. Through readings and performances, students find enhanced inspiration to grow in their love of classical literature.
“Shakespeare gives you a structure,” Clement said. “There’s a rhythm that carries you through whatever you’re saying, and he has a multicolored sort of way that captures so many different aspects of life.”
The club has a large base on campus.
“We have about 20 people in the cast this year,” Clement said. “We had a really good turnout for the reading club last semester.”
With numbers increasing and interest growing, the Shakespeare Society shows no sign of slowing down. The club will continue to put on performances in the spring, and they hope to inspire others with their admiration for Shakespeare.
To study Shakespeare’s poetry is to study the important things in life — beauty, romance, and love. The Shakespeare Society offers students a place to enjoy literature and camaraderie while finding inspiration in the beauty of the poet’s timeless words.
All students are welcome to join the Shakespeare Society to partake in the eternal word of Shakespeare, and the society welcomes everyone to enjoy their performance in the Arb in April.