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Sure, birthdays only come around once a year, but not everyone is celebrated when he turns 456 … unless you’re Shakespeare. April 23 had people around the world toast the birth of the Bard.

Folger Library, which houses the world’s largest Shakespeare collection and is considered the preeminent resource for exploring Shakespeare and his world, held a birthday bash that included events for everyone, like writing a sonnet, reciting a passage, creating a tableau vivant (living picture), and watching a performance.

But for the scholars and thespians in the world, their celebration featured a day of live virtual events, including demonstrations and discussions on creativity, stage combat, and fascinating discoveries in their collection.

The annual birthday lecture to be delivered by Ian Smith, Richard H. and Joan K. Sell Chair in the Humanities, turned into a 30-minute conversation broadcast live via YouTube and Facebook. Smith is highly regarded in Shakespeare and early modern studies for broadening the exploration of race.

His full lecture, which will be rescheduled following the COVID-19 crisis, was on “Reading (Shakespeare) While White.” Through a moderated question-and-answer session with Kathleen Lynch, executive director of Folger Institute, Smith outlined the key aspects of his premise: Practitioners in Shakespearean studies have predominantly been white and demonstrated a reluctance to address race and acknowledge that “whiteness” in the text has remained largely invisible.

This combination naturally results in “racial blindspots” that in turn create an opportunity and the urgency to expand “racial literacy” to recognize, analyze, and discuss Shakespeare’s texts in broader and more meaningful ways.

Smith provided examples of ways to see race in the sonnets and plays.

Lynch said Smith’s published articles created a “reintroduction to newly see Shakespeare.”

View the conversation on YouTube or Facebook.

Categorized in: Academic News, English, Faculty and Staff, Faculty Profiles, Featured News, Lectures-Discussions, News and Features, Research