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Happy Birthday to the Bard

Author John Cech (read by Fiona Barnes)
Air Date 4/24/2002

Happy Birthday to the Bard Transcript

We know very little about the life of one of the world’s best known authors, William Shakespeare, which is perhaps why the controversy continues about whether or not the historical Shakespeare, who was born in Stratford-on-Avon on April 23rd, 1564 and died in Stratford on April 23rd, 1616, was really the creator of the 36 plays and 154 sonnets that carry his name.

In the end, of course, the works will remain; and elementary school children, teenagers, and college students will still have to struggle to memorize soliloquies and scenes from his plays and to try to puzzle out their elusive meanings.

One good way of introducing Shakespeare to young people is through some of the books that retell Shakespeare’s plays as stories. The late British author, Leon Garfield, has two volumes — Shakespeare Stories and Shakespeare Stories II — that provide adaptations of twenty-four plays in a prose style that manages to sound both modern and Elizabethan. Garfield is respectful of the complexities of the originals; and his novelist’s eye for plot helps him to capture their dramatic essences in a relatively few pages — especially with the help of the superb illustrations of Michael Foreman.

Then there’s Lois Burdett, a Canadian teacher whose Shakespeare Can Be Fun Series takes things a little bit further, compressing and rewriting the plays in the form of rhymed couplets that are illustrated by her second and third-grade classes. She’s redone a bunch of the more popular plays in this way, as well as publishing A Child’s Portrait of Shakespeare. Some may well feel that, despite the Bard’s warning in his famous epitaph, these books are truly disturbing his bones — still, they have become very popular, along with Cas Foster’s Sixty Minute Shakespeare series for older readers and amateur directors.

And then there’s that controversy. For a refreshing new take on the question of who wrote Shakespeare, you might want to try out Norma Howe ‘s new novel, The Blue Avenger Cracks the Code, about a 16-year-old intellectual action hero who decides to solve that riddle, for once and for all. Will he decipher Francis Bacon’s Bi-Lateral Cipher — ah, that is the question.

Posted in Literature