At Folger Gala, toasting the forever-young Bard’s 450th birthday

April 24, 2014

Were William Shakespeare as immortal as the words he penned, he’d be 450 years old on Wednesday. But to hear the Bard celebrated at the Folger Shakespeare Library’s annual gala, the guy’s eternally young.

Actors, patrons, and fans toasted the playwright’s birthday with a black-tie dinner set among the book-lined walls of the library’s reading rooms. “Shakespeare is a living presence,” Paul Smith, the director of the British Council and cultural counselor at the British embassy, announced at the start of the pre-dinner program featuring actors cracking wise about Shakespearean lines they found most profound, poetic — and most embarrassingly flubbed (the award for that has to go to the actor who mis-began the very first line of “Romeo and Juliet” as “Two a**holes…” instead of “Two households….”)

And to prove the Bard’s endurance, some of the VIPs in attendance could easily conjure their first brushes with his work. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia recalled that he once played the title character in a high-school production of Macbeth, an assignment that made an impression. “Do you know how many lines that is?” he asked.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) remembered being taken during her school days with Viola, the lead character in “Twelfth Night” (refresher: separated from her brother and shipwrecked in a strange land, she dresses as a eunuch; hilarity ensues). “I remember as a young reader being impressed with her as this smart, decision-making, independent-minded character,” she said. “And you just don’t find many female characters like that.”

And in a tradition the Stratford-on-Avon native probably wouldn’t have recognized, the crowd — which also included British Ambassador Peter Westmacott and his wife, Susie; Italian Ambassador Claudio Bisogniero and his wife, Laura, and Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) — sang “Happy Birthday” to the man of the hour.

 

Emily Heil is the co-author of the Reliable Source and previously helped pen the In the Loop column with Al Kamen.
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