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Bard appreciation grows abroad

Chris McGrady | Tuesday, September 12, 2006

In seventh grade, my teacher read several of Shakespeare’s sonnets and I have been hooked ever since. I respected his creativity and marveled at his mastery of the English language. The way he wrote prose, puns and poems struck me as something that I could never do with anywhere near as much flair. His level of talent was something I will never hope to touch.

More often than not, I find myself in awe of Shakespeare’s talents. However, I didn’t fully grasp the level to which Shakespeare’s abilities rose. After seeing a performance of Titus Andronicus at The Globe, the house that Shakespeare built, I now see even more so the significance his writing and plays have on theater.

In a dimly lit corner of The Globe Theater, I and a dozen or so of my classmates watched as the bloody tragedy “Titus Andronicus” unfolded before us. The actors roved through the crowd and engaged the audience. The action seemed to attack at every angle: from high in the rafters, under the stage and in the audience itself. The opening scene included a parade through the crowd, complete with drums, horns and singing.

For just a moment, it was very easy to become lost in the play, to see yourself in Ancient Rome.

Suddenly it came to me – this was Shakespeare’s goal, what he really set out to do. Shakespeare once said “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” On some levels, this was simply a metaphor for Shakespeare’s idea of reality.

But furthermore, this was true on the level that Shakespeare made the world his stage. He did not limit the action to the wooden planks set before the audience, but rather brought the audience into the play itself. By engaging us so forcefully, that we had to feel for the actors. It wasn’t a request so must as a necessity.

So deep was the level of reality felt by the audience that ten or so viewers fainted during the bloodiest scenes of the production.

This is just one example of the brilliant realism and drama that Shakespeare’s work is capable of portraying. When was the last time you saw an audience so moved by a play that members were actually fainting and having to be carried out on wheelchairs? It was a new experience for me, and one I will never forget.

Largely regarded as one of his lesser works, “Titus Andronicus” was the proverbial straw that broke this camel’s back. I finally can see how Shakespeare’s work set the standard for contemporary drama.

Until I could sit in the seats at The Globe and see the play the way Shakespeare truly meant for it to be seen, I never quite grasped the level to which Shakespeare elevated theater.

I had never imagined his uncanny ability to relate to the audience. To have the audience gasping in horror one second, laughing the next and sitting in tense silence soon thereafter, is something that truly only the “master of written word” can do.

The lights came up, the actors bowed.

Zealous applause erupted.

I sat silent, still in awe, but a different kind of awe altogether, because now I think I understand.

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The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.