Shakespeare canon

Swimming in a Shakespeare sea

Ready, Portland? The city's about to binge on the Bard with the Complete Works Project. Why? Because it's there.

A while ago I wondered where all the Shakespeare had gone at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Lately I’ve been wondering something of the opposite: what’s Portland going to do with all of this Shakespeare?

By now you might have heard that the city’s theater companies and academic institutions have taken a vow to produce the entire canon in the next two years. “37 plays, 2 years, 1 city,” the sponsoring Complete Works Project trumpets its intentions.

Henry Fuseli, "Lady Macbeth Seizing the Daggers," c. 1812, oil on canvas, 50 x 40 inches, Tate Britain, London

Henry Fuseli, “Lady Macbeth Seizing the Daggers,” c. 1812, oil on canvas, 50 x 40 inches, Tate Britain, London

That’s a lot of blank verse, and otherwise. A lot of murders, and political plots, and mistaken identities, and magical spells, and belly laughs, and meddlesome ghosts, and young lovers, and comic foils, and plays within the plays, and drunken fools, and hot-tempered teenagers, and fairyland creatures, and weird sisters, and ring tricks, and dukes and kings and cutthroats and cutpurses.

The binge begins officially on April 23, Shakespeare’s 450th birthday, with a free kickoff celebration three days later at the Gerding Theater at the Armory (where Portland Center Stage’s current Othello is being staged), and ends on April 23, 2016, the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. (And in Ashland, artistic director Bill Rauch has allayed Bardolators’ fears by announcing that, in spite of cutting back to just three Shakespeares in the 2015 season, the festival by itself will produce the entire canon over the next 10 years.)

Why do this thing? On its Web page, the project answers its own rhetorical question: “Why on Earth not? If we can, we must!”

This is a bit like the mountaineer George Mallory’s response to a query in 1923 about why he wanted to climb Mt. Everest. Mallory, who had failed in attempts to reach the peak the previous two years and would die the following year in yet a third expedition, famously and perhaps sarcastically replied, “Because it’s there.”


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