Sounding the Sonnets

A Ritual Performance Happening

  • 12:05 (M-F), August 31 – December 9, 2011
  • Bentdahl Commons (Rain, sleet, or snow location:  Bentdahl Commons)

Why would someone want to read two Shakespeare sonnets aloud at 12:05 on the Bentdahl Commons five days a week from August 31 through December 9—in a burst of golden September light as well as in the blustering rain of late October, in a pounding November blizzard and the crystalline sub-zero crackle of early December?

Nine reasons.

1. Some individual Shakespeare sonnets are among the most well-known, best-loved, and greatest poems in the world:

    Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

    Thou art more lovely and more temperate. (Sonnet 18)

    Let me not to the marriage of true minds

    Admit impediments. Love is not love

    Which alters when it alteration finds. (Sonnet 116)

2. As a group, the 154 Sonnets are even greater than any one of the individual sonnets. They are as important a work of art as Hamlet or Much Ado About Nothing. Their topic is love, and they explore its every complex, tortured, rapturous angle.

3. A public reading in the middle of campus at 12:05 daily will reach some passers-by who probably wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to a sonnet that day.

4. Reading poetry aloud—even if no one is listening—is a public affirmation of the importance of beauty and art. That’s what makes it a “Ritual Performance.”

5. But isn’t it a little weird to just be standing out there reading, even if no one is listening? Yes, that’s what makes this a “Happening.”

6. No concessions? There is no such thing as bad weather—just inadequate clothing. But, yes, over Fall Break and Thanksgiving I’ll read the poems aloud to my wife at home. And maybe, just once or twice, I’ll have a substitute reader.

7. Pure whim?  No, this performance is part of a larger project. As the 2011-13 Dennis M. Jones Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Humanities, I am working to create “Our Shakespeare: Renewing Connections.” The project aims to nurture our community’s re-discovery of the range, power, and wisdom of Shakespeare’s art. The project title alludes to the individualistic language of the internet (“My Cart,” “My Luther”) to suggest our common investment in the creation, appreciation, distribution, and adaptation of individual artists’ work. The word play in the subtitle suggests both that we can renew our connections, and that the connections themselves are renewing. In the words of the general Jones Professorship description, this project emphasizes that “the traditions of the humanities can speak clearly across boundaries of individual lives and of periods in history, and that preservation and examination of cultural traditions is an important part of our history.”

8. Whew! And what might some of these opportunities be? This summer, forty-five faculty from Africana Studies, Art, Biology,  Chemistry, Classics, Economics, Education, English, Environmental Studies, German,  Library, Music, Paideia, Physics, Political Science, Philosophy, Religion, Social Work, Spanish, and Theatre/Dance participated in workshops discussing and seeing performances of 1 Henry IV and The Tempest. Maybe some of these profs will allude to Shakespeare in one of their classes or conferences this fall. There will be occasional Shakespeare film showings. On November 16, my class “Shakespeare Performed” will perform 1 Henry IV for the students in Paideia I and the whole campus community. And some faculty have included some Shakespeare in their syllabus this fall as a way of drawing on a cultural heritage that cuts across academic disciplines. Watch Chips and other venues for information on more to come. Also see <http://www.luther.edu/english/ourshakespeare/>, which will soon include a calendar of events.

9. The year 2011 is the 150th anniversary of Luther’s founding, but it is also the 447th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth.

(Reprinted from the Luther College Chips, September 8, 2011, p. 9)

 To see photos of the Sounding the Sonnets Finale on December 9, 2011, click here.