April 23 is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, an event so far in the past that it can be celebrated as a second birthday of sorts.
The New York Public Library’s contribution to the festivities has an endearingly homemade quality.
This august institution boasts over 500 audio recordings of the Bard’s work, not to mention 40 years’ worth of the New York Shakespeare Festival’s records. But rather than drawing on the collection to highlight the work of such supreme interpreters as John Gielgud, John Barrymore, or Edwin Booth, the library has invited thirty of its staffers to recite their favorite Shakespearean speech, monologue, or sonnet.
Sean Ferguson, of Chinatown’s Chatham Square branch, tackles the opening of Richard III from a dignified remove.
Grand Central’s managing librarian, Genoveve Stowell, goes for it with a lusty rendition of King Lear’s third act rage against the storm.
Liz Denlinger, who helms the main branch’s Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle went with Shakespeare’s temporally-obsessed 12th sonnet.
Make no mistake these are librarians, not trained actors, but their amateurishness is part of the fun.
The library plans to release one recording daily throughout the month of April, adding to the playlist until the tracks number thirty.
We are hoping that the project’s architects will define “staff” to include supporting departments. We would love to hear a member of the security or maintenance team take a stab—pardon the pun—at Othello or Juliet.
For more Shakespeare readings, see our post: A 68 Hour Playlist of Shakespeare’s Plays Being Performed by Great Actors: Gielgud, McKellen & More.
Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Her 15-year-old son will be playing Puck later this month in the world premiere of Mark York’s musical staging of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Meanwhile, his mother dreams of being cast as the Nurse. Follow her @AyunHalliday