Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

3 Wonderful and Witty Ways to Celebrate Shakespeare’s Birthday

By Folger Education


Shakespeare’s birthday is around the corner (April 23rd), and we’ve been collecting your ideas for celebrating his 451st. To kick off this year’s festivities, we’re thrilled to share these 3 fabulous ideas from our teaching colleagues:

  1. Host a Shakespeare’s Birthday Read-a-Thon. Take a cue from Jim Cody at Brookdale Community College in New Jersey and invite your school community to participate in a public reading of Shakespeare. We wish we could join Jim and his colleagues for this year’s villain-themed event!
  2. Have an all-out birthday fair in your school library or media center. This idea comes from Janemarie Cloutier, a school librarian in Pennsylvania, who took some Folger ideas and really ran with them. Janemarie says she “had the privilege of attending a Folger workshop in Philadelphia and was inspired to organize a celebration last year… and now this year. Many of the activities at our birthday celebration were modeled on Folger lessons.” Janemarie has even added new activities this year. From collaborative sonneteering and portrait painting to Shakespearean selfies and an insult arena, this library’s birthday bash really has it all. Check out these images from last year’s celebration.
    Celebrating Shakespeare's Birthday (Janemarie Cloutier)
    Celebrating Shakespeare’s Birthday (Janemarie Cloutier)


  3. Play with costumes and performance. Melinda, who teaches in Colorado, sponsors a whimsical “Shakespeare Look Alike Contest” and enjoys seeing all those Elizabethan ruffs around school. We’ve also heard from teachers and students who dress as their favorite Shakespearean characters and even perform speeches by those characters throughout the day.
  4. BONUS: If you’re in DC this weekend, come to the Folger Shakespeare Library for our annual open house for Shakespeare’s birthday! Starting at noon on Sunday, April 19th, we’ll be pulling out all the stops and celebrating in a big way. Tour the Reading Rooms, see some swordfighting, perform some spontaneous Shakespeare, take a scavenger hunt, read stories with DC Public Library, and, of course, eat cake!


It’s not too late to share your birthday plans with us! Please send your ideas for celebrating Shakespeare’s big day—along with any images—to Corinne (cviglietta@folger.edu). We’ll be posting some more of these festive contributions next week. Thanks, and enjoy!


Corinne Viglietta is Assistant Director of Education at the Folger. She has taught English in DC, Maryland, and France.


      • Free inquiry is a thing. Who made you the thought police? What about the real author? What if we are talking about his life’s work? shakespeareoxfordfellowship.org

        Folger himself was actually interested in the authorship issue. Don’t deny his legacy!

  • What do Sir John Gielgud, Sir Derek Jacobi, Sir John Hurt, Mark Rylance, Vanessa Redgrave, Jeremy Irons, Michael York, Orson Welles, Henry James, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, Anne rice, Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emmerson, Mortimer Adler, Sigmund Freud, Charlie Chapman, David McCullough and thousands of others including Supreme Court Justices and academics have in common?

    They don’t buy the notion that the man from Stratford wrote the works attributed to him.

    As Orson Welles said: “I think Oxford wrote Shakespeare. If you don’t, there are some awfully funny coincidences to explain away”.

    Mark Twain described the orthodox view as “sorely embarrassing” while MArk Rylance said “It’s ridiculous”.

    • I think the point of Folger’s Shakespeare education program is to introduce young people to the extraordinary assembly of characters Shakespeare imagines, the beautiful language he empowers them with and the joy and privilege of performing any of his roles. Which reminds me of something Orson Wells also said in a television interview in 1963 (its on youtube), while speaking of the Ghost role in Hamlet, “Shakespeare played it… that’s why he played it because its the toughest part in the play…he must have been a great actor… he must have been a great actor… its nonsense that he was a bit player… when he played the ghost its because the ghost is the key to that play…” Despite Wells’ enthusiastic shout out to the Bard, there is no documentary evidence that Shakespeare played the ghost in Hamlet – there are no playbills which survive. There may be stylometric hints that this is a role he would have played – but that is all we have.

      Young actors may sometimes look on the number of lines Shakespeare has granted them and be disappointed – but Wells’ comment illustrates there are no “bit” parts in Shakespeare – even a “small” role often merits a capable actor and demands a great performance. What kind of actors have played the Ghost? Patrick Stewart, for one. John Geilgud, for another. Olivier voiced the ghost in his own film version. The list is long and distinguished: Paul Scofield, Iain Cuthbertson, Brian Blessed and of particular note, the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Sam Shepherd, to name just a few. Perhaps Shakespeare, after all.

    • Orson Welles said that Shakespeare was a great actor and played all the most difficult parts in the plays. He doesn’t seem to question Shakespeare’s identity here: https://youtu.be/smMa38CZCSU?t=2m4s. Dickens’ alleged doubts are attributed to one remark that merely stated (correctly) that we know relatively little about Shakespeare.

      There is no evidence at all that anyone other than William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon wrote any of the works attributed to him.

  • You have absolutely no proof that your murderer, pedophile and war deserter who also wrote atrocious poetry penned the works of Shakespeare. However, there are stacks of evidence that a man from Stratford upon Avon worked, yeah actually worked for a living s living for over 20 years in the theater with other professionals instead of having fortunes and underserved titles handed to him on a silver platter only to squander all of it and try mine tin to make up for it. The plays were written by an actor who worked in the theater with other actors not some profligate smuck who lent his name to a theater company years before any of the plays were written. That’s the life’s work you’re denying and handing it off to some Elizabethan waste of space. Who made you the denial police and gave the right to ruin the celebration of someone who actually made contributions to humanity as opposed to this idiot who did nothing but murder, squander and whine his way through is pathetic life!

    • You have absolutely no proof the Earl of Oxford was a murderer, pedophile and war deserter. It’s unclear what, exactly, happened in the undercook’s death, accusations are not proof and the pages were not children, and Oxford apparently wanted more action than a landlubber’s post at Harwich.

      Sorry you don’t like song lyrics he wrote as a teenager. I think they’re pretty good.

      I hope your hateful comment will encourage readers to look more closely at the SAQ. It’s really quite interesting.

      • He killed a man, fact. His page was under the age majority which at the time was 21 so the page was legally a child even by today’s standards and Oxford had sexual relations with him as attested by the teenager’s testimony. At the very least accused pedophile. He’s appointed a post in wartime and leaves it. That’s a deserter, fact. He had college degrees handed to him before he hit puberty and did nothing with them. He squandered his fortunes and had to live off of the kindness of others. So he was a waste of space who contributed nothing to Elizabeth’s court and consumed everything.

        Aside from these lovely character traits he knew absolutely nothing about acting or what was required to run a theater which permeates these works. His family name was on a couple of theater companies that his father owned. He lent his title for social prestige, that’s it.

        Not to mention these other strikes against him:
        1.topical allusions present in 13 plays (1/3 of the canon) that happened after he died.
        2.Not one but several stylometric tests place him on the bottom on alternative candidates
        3. The latest computer test, the psychological profile created from examining the canon gives the author of that canon credit for a shared play “Double Falsehood” aka “Cardenio”, a play whose source material came out a year after Oxford died and whose English translation came out 8 years after he died.

        That’s your “true author” in a nut shell.

        If my comments come across as “hateful” that’s because its the same level of bile that you Oxfordians throw at Will Shakespeare. If you’re going to hurl insults than be prepared to get them in return. So you have no one to blame but your fellow conspiracy theorists. If Shakespeare were alive today, he’d make a fortune winning libel suits for character assassination against Oxfordians for the amount of created garbage that he’s been accused of just because he doesn’t fit some narrow elitist fantasy that you people hold.

    • Spoken like a true Oxfraudian. I don’t have time to refute all that right now but I’m sure anyone who’s followed online discussions could do it in ten seconds flat.

      Have a nice day.

    • Steve,

      You’re saying that in an era where the life expectancy was only 31, people waited until 21 to begin sexual relations?

      Juliet was how old? 13?

      Shakpere himself got married at how old? 18? After getting his girlfriend pregnant?

      The historical record shows us “Gentle Master William” was far from that – he threatened a man with death, hoarded grain in a time of famine, instigated numerous lawsuits over unpaid debts, charged a visiting preacher for the wine he served him…

      Of course, the word “gentle” in the Elizabethan era meant not only “placid”, which Mr Shakspere certainly was not, but “aristocratic”.

      And as Walt Whitman said:

      “Conceived out of the heat and pulse of European feudalism, personifying in unparalled ways the medieval aristocracy, only one of the “wolfish Earl” so present in the plays themselves would seem to be the true author of those amazing works. I am firm against Shakspear – the Avon man, the actor”.

      • >> You’re saying that in an era where the life expectancy was only 31, people waited until 21 to begin sexual relations? Juliet was how old? 13?
        Shakpere himself got married at how old? 18? After getting his girlfriend pregnant?

        I don’t wish to speak for Steve, but I don’t think that is what Steve is saying at all. I also don’t see how Juliet’s age or Will Shakespeare’s age is at all relevant to the question of whether or not the Earl of Oxford kept Orazio Cogno for the purpose of having sexual relations with the young man. Issues such as consent and control by someone in a position of authority are not involved in the cases of Juliet or Will and his pregnant soon-to-be wife, at least so far as we know.

        >> The historical record shows us “Gentle Master William” was far from that – he threatened a man with death,

        The historical record actually shows no such thing. It shows that someone made an allegation against WS [and others] in an exchange of bonds, but it doesn’t show that he ever threatened a man with death. Of course, the allegation is not at all relevant as to Will Shakespeare’s authorship of the canon, unless one wishes to argue that Chaucer [charged with rape] should be excluded as the author of his works, and the same rule applied in other cases such as with Malory [multiple charges and jail time], Marlowe, Jonson [actually killed a man], etc.

        >> hoarded grain in a time of famine,

        Again, there is absolutely no evidence in the historical record to support this claim. If you disagree, please provide the evidence which you claim supports the specific allegation that Will Shakespeare of Stratford hoarded grain in a time of famine, or at any other time for that matter.

        >> instigated numerous lawsuits over unpaid debts,

        Two, possibly three, lawsuits, does not qualify as “numerous” in an era when there was an explosion of litigation. And, again, the filing of such suits would have no bearing on whether or not Shakespeare of Stratford, the same man who was in the acting companies which performed the Shakespeare plays, and the same man who was a shareholder and householder in the theaters where those plays were performed, was the author William Shakespeare.

        >> charged a visiting preacher for the wine he served him…

        Wrong…why don’t you get your facts straight.

        Now, as for your “Gentle Master William,” are you unaware of the fact that the phrase comes from Thomas Nashe’s 1593 dedication to *Strange News*, and reads in full as “Gentle Master William Apis Lapis,” which some Oxfordians ridiculously argue is a reference to their Lord, Oxford?

        >> Of course, the word “gentle” in the Elizabethan era meant not only “placid”, which Mr Shakspere certainly was not, but “aristocratic”.

        Of course, “gentle” was also utilized to describe someone who had the status of gentleman, which status Mr. Shakespeare of Stratford certainly did have. In fact, there are numerous records which refer to the author of the Shakespeare works using the honorific [“M”, “Mr.”, “Master”] which signified the author’s status as a gentleman.

        As for what Walt Whitman had to say, your argument by appeal to celebrity is worthless. You can stack up however many doubters you wish and they will be outnumbered by thousands who understand that William Shakespeare of Stratford was the author of the works.

  • I’ve already celebrated by submitting a play to a competition that celebrates each year by having their submission deadline on April 23rd in Shakespeare’s honor. I did that early, because my novel S: A Small Tale Of Shakespeare will be published that day after three years work. The same day I will begin work on the final draft of a satire about a group of people like many of the ones who have already commented on this page. If they insist on spreading unusual comedy everywhere, I feel it should be used to entertain people, not irritate them, which is the usual result.

    I look forward to reading about the celebrations next week.

  • Mr Folger was interested in the authorship issue, and he was not alone.

    Mortimer Adler, Chairman of Encyclopedia Bittanica, wrote:

    “Just a mere glance at his pathetic efforts to sign his name – illiterate scrawls – should forever eliminate Shakspere from further consideration in this question: he could not write. Academics err in failing to acknowledge the mystery surrounding ‘Shake-speare’s’ identity. They would do both liberal education and the works of ‘Shake-speare’ a distinguished service by opening the question to the judgment of their students, and others outside the academic realm.”

    US Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun wrote:

    “The doubters have presented a very strong — almost fully convincing — case for their point of view. The debate continues and it is well it does. If I had to rule on the evidence presented in a court of law, it would be in favor of the Oxfordians.”

    In 1996, while serving as president of the World Shakespeare Congress, Sir John Gielgud, regarded by many as the greatest Shakespearean actor of the 20th Century, signed a petition which reads as follows:

    “We, the undersigned, petition the Shakespeare Association of America, in light of ongoing research, to engage actively in a comprehensive, objective and sustained investigation of the authorship of the Shakespeare Canon.”

    Gielgud added he was extremely sympathetic to the Oxfordian cause.

    For those wishing to read more on the subject, Mark anderson’s “Shakespeare By Another Name” is available very reasonably as a kindle on amazon.com; also recommended is Katherine Chiljan’s “Shakespeare Suppressed”.

  • I used to be a staunch supporter of the orthodox view; however close re-readings of the Sonnets has converted me to the Oxfordian camp.

    Sonnet 107:

    “The mortal moon hath her eclipse endured,
    And the sad augurs mock their own presage;
    Incertainties now crown themselves assured,
    And peace proclaims olives of endless age.
    Now with the drops of this most balmy time,
    My love looks fresh, and Death to me subscribes”

    Numerous orthodox scholars refer to this as the “dating Sonnet”, describing Elizabeth’s death in 1603. “Death to me subscribes” makes sense coming from Oxford, who died the following year, but makes little sense coming from Stratford Will, who didn’t die until 1616.

    Sonnet 125 begins with “Were’t ought to me I bore the canopy” – “bearing the canopy” was a ceremonial procedure that only a handful of Elizabethan noblemen were entitled to do, and Oxford was one of them.

    Jonathan Bate in “The Genius Of Shakespeare” makes many salient points as to why the “fair youth” should be identified as the Earl of Southampton, and that the Sonnets likely began around 1590, when Lord Burghley began propositioning Southampton to marry his granddaughter – Oxford’s daughter.

    Sonnet 2 begins “When forty winters shall besiege thy brow”. Oxford, born in 1550, was precisley 40 in 1590, however Will was only 26.

    Another claim that the orthodoxy often cite is that the poet calls himself “Will” in the Sonnets, which, they suggest, is evidence that the poet was called Will.

    But does it make sense that over the course of 154 Sonnets – 2156 lines – the poet describes raunchy situations involving himself, the “fair youth”, the “dark lady” and the “rival poet”, yet NOT ONCE reveals the name of his 3 protagonists?

    Perhaps that is why CS Lewis, well known as the author of the Narnia books but whose day job was Professor of English at Cambridge, wrote that the Sonnets between the poet and the “fair youth” are “too lover-like for that of ordinary male friendship”, adding “I have found no parallel between friends in 16th century literature”.

    Both Oxford and Southampton were accused of being bisexual during their lifetimes, in an age when homosexuality was punishable by death. And the Sonnets were likely circulated between members of the aristocracy, and could fall into the wrong hands.

    So does it make more sense that the Sonneteer was really called Will? Or that he wrote the Sonnets in a closed-style language, never mentioning the real names of the main players, yer puns and makes fun of the name “Will” and suggests that both he and his friend share the name, because it was a PSEUDONYM?

    Yes, I used to believe in the conventional wisdom, but I have now seen the light. Or to quote Oxford:

    “To play with fools, O what a fool was I”.

  • A Bardelicious Birfday Sonnet

    What form of gift befits the Stratford Man
    In glad commemoration of that day
    On which the life of Avon’s Bard began?
    I proffer here suggestions, if I may…

    Perhaps a lay in shrill falsetto sung
    By minstrel gay, in pied velour bedecked?
    Or fool’s gold nuggets, dull, but neatly strung?
    Or wax bananas, true-to-life, correct?

    Perhaps a powdered wig, some nice perukes?
    From Fred’rick’s store in Hollywood, perchance,
    A pair of fake, yet sassy, maxi-glutes
    One’s nonexistent tush made to enhance?

    No book of Ossian, bust of Ba’al, toupee…
    Can best the literary world’s trompe l’oeil!

  • Thank you Folger for at least admitting on your website that many people believe that the works of Shakespeare were not written by the man from Stratford.

    We look forward to the day when Edward De Vere is listed as the true author!

    • I am more pleased that Oxfordians chose this day to close Shakesvere’s open fb group, so that inner dissensions are kept somewhat (but not completely) quiet. It’s a wonderful birthday present. Thank you. My present in return is that the Oxford play as yet untitled is proceeding nicely, and satire is afoot. Interest in production has already been voiced. At last. Oxfordians: What you’ve always wanted in within your grasp. Your voices, onstage. Should be lots of fun for everyone. Happy birthday to he.

      • Hi Sandra,

        I’m not sure what you’re talking about exactly regarding facebook, but your play sounds a lot of fun. Good luck with it!

  • It’s humorous how haughty and rhetorical Stratfordians get when they’re faced with the fact the glover’s son from Stratford wasn’t Shakespeare. Since the late 1970s, significant research focused scholarship on a different Shakespeare: one who was first a great poet – a genius poet – and not the mediocre actor of the old guard who still claim his primary objective was to entertain at the burlesque theaters sprouting up outside London at the very end of the 16th Century.

    Instead he was a classical Greek and Latin scholar who shared worldly knowledge, and the advanced cultural developments taking place in Renaissance Italy which he added to half his plays. The mature half. He was a highly successful court entertainer (unlike Marlowe, Jonson, etc.) according to the printed front pages of quartos. He targeted audiences of cerebral courtiers, and not God-fearing illiterate citizens. He successfully amused the intellectual minority in England who were rich enough to habituate palaces.

    Knowing who Shakespeare had to please – with more than a decade of plays – explains the motivation and opportunity he had to develop the English language and why today we still treasure his works. He instructed the rich and famous how to face troubles and command themselves, and, on occasion having a belly laugh or two at the useless antics of the common man. Certainly, aspirations for a common weal were not sung by him. The leading characters were not young Joan of Arc’s, they were the entitled and super rich.

    Knowing today Edward de Vere fit perfectly as the best candidate contributed significant discoveries. Unfortunately, such clarity about Shakespeare’s brave new world inspires some scholars to lead their young flocks straight over the abyss.

  • Happy birthday Shaksper of Stratford! Even though you might not have been born on 23 April and even though you never wrote a play or poem in your life or bothered to teach your children how read and write, and even though you never owned a book and left your wife only your second best bed, I am sure you had some redeeming qualities. You have certainly given a lot of hope to those whom Jonson described as ‘sluggish gaping auditors’ or those of ‘silliest ignorance,’ followers of the cult of Stratfordianism which you never even knew about and over which Jonson repined. I like to think you would have been amused to see how the awestruck Straties carry on applauding you for things you never did. Requiescat in pace, dear fellow. Alexander

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