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Arts and Letters celebrates sixth annual SonnetFest

| Sunday, February 15, 2015

Shakespeare at Notre Dame and the College of Arts and Letters will  host the sixth annual SonnetFest in the Great Hall of O’Shaughnessy today from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Members of the Notre Dame community are encouraged to stop by and listen to the public reading of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets.

Peter Holland, Notre Dame’s McMeel Family professor in Shakespeare studies and associate dean for the arts, said SonnetFest is a unique celebration of love and Valentine’s Day.

“I think this sequence of sonnets is the greatest love poetry that exists in the English language,” he said. “Not because it all reads like Hallmark cards but exactly the opposite. It shows that love is full of a remarkable range of emotions.”

Scott Jackson, executive director of Shakespeare at Notre Dame, said SonnetFest traditionally features a number of diverse readings. In the past, sonnets have been read in Spanish, French, Italian, German, Russian, Chinese, Tagalog, American Sign Language, Morse Code, Klingon and Parseltongue.

“Since this is a College of Arts and Letters event, we try to engage all the departments within Arts and Letters,” he said. “That means there’s a lot of language study. Shakespeare really is a universal author who crossed a lot of cultural lines and divides.”

SonnetFest aims to unify all of the varying disciplines of Arts and Letters around Shakespeare’s works, Jackson said.

“He’s universal in the themes that he writes about,” he said. “In a way, that’s a nice symbol for the College of Arts and Letters because the course of study involves a myriad of disciplines, but at the end of the day they’re all related — in some way or another — to human experience.”

A variety of students, faculty and members of the South Bend community volunteered to read the sonnets, Jackson said.

“It’s a low stress way to get some practice with public speaking,” he said. “For a lot people, that’s a fear greater than death. Reading a sonnet is a good and easy exercise to just get over that anxiety of public speaking.”

Holland said the venue enhances SonnetFest by providing a chance to engage the student population that may not have much previous exposure to Shakespeare.

“Most of the time, the Great Hall is the place between Waddick’s and the outside world,” Holland said. “It’s a place of transition. I think it’s nice when there’s something going on in there — something that’s interactive and participatory without being virtual and digital.”

One of the goal’s of SonnetFest and Shakespeare at Notre Dame is to promote a curiosity in Shakespeare in the University community, Jackson said.

“We really encourage people to walk through and check out [SonnetFest] for a couple of minutes,” he said. “You can stay for one poem, or you can listen to 30 sonnets. We’re just hoping to broaden the culture of Shakespeare here on campus.”

Jackson said SonnetFest is scheduled as close to Valentine’s Day as possible because Shakespeare’s sonnets celebrate love in all forms.

“Within his 154 sonnets, Shakespeare wrote about all different experiences in life at all different stages in life,” Jackson said. “The common theme that ties it all together is the importance of love in your life. Love is what makes life worth living. There are many poems that might be about death or duplicity, but they are all rooted in the passion that one person has for another.”

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About Katie Galioto

Katie, The Observer's former Managing Editor, is a senior majoring in political science, with minors in Business Economics and Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. She's an ex-Walsh Hall resident who now lives off campus and hails from Chanhassen, Minnesota. Follow her on Twitter @katiegalioto.

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