In 24 Hour Shakes, a Beloved Tradition, All of Shakespeare's Works Are Read Aloud in 24 hours

March 7, 2016
Two students read Shakespeares works during 24 Hour Shakes 2016

This weekend, students in the Wellesley College Shakespeare Society and other lovers of the Bard's work gathered to read every one of Shakespeare's 14,000 lines, 154 sonnets and 39 plays, out loud, in 24 hours. A beloved tradition, this year's 24 Hour Shakes, began at noon on Friday, March 4 and extended to noon on Saturday, March 5.

"We had a really great turnout this year; there were a lot of people who just wandered in and read a few scenes and then wandered back out, and others who valiantly read with us through the night," said Cordelia Zhong '17, vice president of the Shakespeare Society.

Zhong organized a reading schedule this year that included "roaming" locations across campus in the Margaret Clapp Library, the Science, Center, El Table, and the Hoop. Following the actions of previous society vice presidents, Zhong said she released the schedule of plays ahead of time so people could have a better idea of when and where to go. She said she didn’t keep an exact count of all of this year’s participants but estimates that, at one point during the night, there were some 35 people together reading plays in Shakespeare Haus.

"My favorite moment of 24 Hour Shakespeare is the cram sessions we inevitably have early in the mornings on Saturday. Most of the time, each play is being read by several people, who either bounce roles back and forth or jump in to say lines whenever they feel like it," Zhong said. "However, by the time it gets to around 5am the next morning, our deadline begins to put more pressure on us and people begin reading plays on their own, just muttering the lines to themselves as they sit with their cups of coffee or tea."

Zhong said she also enjoys moments of inspiration and understanding that tend to occur. "I always love when someone looks up in the middle of their muttering and [says] 'Oh NOW I understand this line...' Even in the midst of all the rush, people can still get these a-ha moments and feel that connection to the work," she said.

The Shakespeare Society produces a play each semester as their main event. The fall 2015 play was Twelfth Night, directed by Kate Bussert '16. This spring, they will present Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Rowan Winterwood '16. Other events include Haus of Fools (a spring semester event) and Haunted Haus (Haus of Fools' fall semester equivalent).

This spring also included a collaboration with the Davis Museum. In late February, members of the Shakespeare Society presented More than Words can Witness, a lively in-gallery performance inspired by the works on display in the Davis Museum’s spring special exhibit, That Right Promethean Fire: Shakespeare Illustrated.  The audience was then invited to a conversation with the actors, discussing the relationship between theater and visual art, and the special history of Shakespeare at Wellesley.

The Shakespeare Society has been active since 1877, making it the oldest continuous society at the college. Under the guidance of Wellesley College Founder Henry Fowle Durant, the society's original 12 members undertook a "systematic study of Shakespeare as a means of mental development." Today, Wellesley us the only major liberal arts college at which the study of Shakespeare's work is required for English majors.

This year marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death. Throughout the semester, the Wellesley community is celebrating Shakespeare by welcoming artists and lecturers who help keep Shakespeare "fully alive" by interpreting his work. Other events later this semester will include a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (in translation) by the internationally acclaimed Korean theatre troupe Yohangza, and an inspired original work, Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet), performed by the Wellesley Repertory Theatre.