It is one a.m. at the all-night Shakespeare festival in Linsley-Chittenden Hall. Shakespeare enthusiasts abound, grouped in rooms according to dramatic genre: historic, tragic, comedic, miscellaneous. Enter Ben Lasman, Nick Handler, and Ali Seitz, armed with notebooks.
Scene i: Ben Lasman, journalistic rogue.
By 1:30, only two people remain in the Miscellaneous room. One, his face engulfed by the Collected Works of William Shakespeare, recites “Sonnet 152” in a stentorian tone. His partner stands at attention, book in hand, like a tag-team wrestler primed to enter the ring. Had these poets decided to stage their soliloquies on the corner of York and Elm Street instead of within the warmly-lit interiors of Yale’s English department, most passersby would have thrown them some change. Rather than repelling onlookers with their unapologetic dorkiness, the speakers project the dignified aura often claimed by Civil War reenactors. Performing for itself, the old guard stands for history in an age of unimpeded progress, promoting the immortal relevance of artistic tradition against the fleeting affectations of YouTube.
They want to share their message and will go to great lengths to do so. The first orator, a graduate student at Boston University, traveled all the way from Massachusetts to attend the Bardic marathon. “My friend and I got a bunch of e-mails about it and decided, ‘Hey, it’s a way to spend a Saturday night,’” explains the attendee. As he rifles through an avalanche of dog-eared folios in search of All’s Well That Ends Well, his companion launches into “Sonnet 154.” With the clock ticking and over a dozen full-length left to read, the pair flips pages, picks roles, and presses on to the next play.
Scene ii: Nick Handler knavishly infiltrates History.
Bleary-eyed and adrift in the LC hallway, I am yanked into the History room, where an unshaven thespian in an ill-fitting polo shirt pleads, “Do you want to be the Duke of Orleans?” With no time to respond, I am thrust into the middle of a circle of chairs alongside the Dauphin and Lord Rambures, who hands me a dusty copy of Henry V. The King lounges in the English camp near the window with his plastic sword, contemplating the imminent battle at Agincourt. A gawky Lear stands outside the door, looking for an Edmund.
We are at the end of Act III, in the French camp near the blackboard. The night before the battle is dragging on, and I am growing tense. After forty minutes of Dauphin stumbling through a verbose insult of my horse, I begin to understand the Duke’s impatience: “Will it never be morning?” Enter King Henry in Ralph Lauren armor and wire-rim glasses, lamenting histrionically, “Thou proud dream that plays so subtly with a king’s repose…”
By 2:30 I am looking for some repose of my own. Tired and fed up with King Henry’s whining, my last lines come with a little extra energy:
“What a wretched and peevish fellow is this king of England, to mope with his fat-brained followers so far out of his knowledge!”
Scene iii: Ali Seitz, bastard son, finds pizza.
“Will you be Edgar?”
My chin drops, quivers a little, nods of its own accord. I am moved by the sincere expressions in the bright Tragedies room.
I stutter a slightly, my voice lilting with each new and unnatural apostrophe, but I soon assume the confident speech of the spurned son Edgar. I relish the words “grime with filth.” I sneer and cry in my passionate sorrow. For a moment, I giggle—I giggle at King Lear, the most tragic of tragedies, where calamity is blamed not on witches but on silly humans like myself. But I labor to inhabit my lost Edgar once again, and disguise myself as Tom O’Bedlam. As I turn to my poor, ravaged father, my eyes meet his sockets, and we struggle to stay in character. As we embark on our tortured path to Dover, somebody yells “Pizza!”
And we are alone.