The Bard lives on even in a digital age

Published: Saturday, June 22 2013 1:00 p.m. MDT

A detail of the newly discovered portrait of William Shakespeare, presented by the Shakespeare Birthplace trust, is seen in central London, Monday, March 9, 2009. The portrait, believed to be almost the only authentic image of the writer made from life, has belonged to one family for centuries but was not recognized as a portrait of Shakespeare until recently. There are very few likenesses of Shakespeare, who died in 1616.

Lefteris Pitarakis, Associated Press

When Nicole Owens announced to her English class that they would be studying Shakespeare, there was a collective groan.

"Their reaction is the same as most, which would be not excited," said the recent Brigham Young University-Idaho graduate who was completing her student teaching in Idaho Falls.

For educators like Owens, the battle begins in bridging the gap between educational pillars such as the works of William Shakespeare, while living in an increasingly digital world.

With the Utah Shakespeare Festival kicking off another season June 24, it stems the question: Is there a rift between the relics of the past and the innovation of the future?

According to Don Weingust, director of Shakespeare studies at Southern Utah University, this is a question as old as the Bard himself.

"The question of developing technology is one that has been going on since Shakespeare’s day. We are simply seeing the next generation of it," Weingust said.

For Shakespeare, it was a battle taking a step into a world with movable type, Weingust said.

"We are taking the next huge leap into the digital angle. We are struggling the way Shakespeare and his fellows were. It’s a matter of constant evolution,” he said.

But some educators would argue that because of the increased accessibility and onslaught of tools to understand iambic pentameter and early modern English, Shakespeare is more available than ever.

"We live in the best time for Shakespeare because there are so many tools you can use to prepare you before, during and after," said Michael Bahr, the education director for the Utah Shakespeare Festival. "Our job as storytellers and directors is to keep the language, character and plot clear so the language and words resonate. That's what the Utah Shakespearean Festival stands for."

Festivals like the Cedar City-based, Tony-Award-winning summer-fest act as a catalyst for education. Often, teachers help students connect with some of the most famous theatrical works by introducing them to their students on stage.

"It's drama. It's intended to be viewed," said Kip Hartvigsen, an English professor at Brigham Young University-Idaho.

But as the world dives deeper into a digital world, literary relics such as Shakespeare can be found in a variety of new media.

Online tools

Thanks to the emergence of the Internet, additional tools are available at the click of a mouse to help transcend the Shakespearean experience for students, teachers and theatergoers alike.

One of the best online tools is the Oxford English Dictionary, said Weingust.

When Hartvigsen first started teaching, he used audio recordings to help his students understand that what they were studying was more than words on a page. Now, thanks to the digital age, his students are finding ways to become more engaged.

Hartvigsen said many students watch performances of the plays they are studying on YouTube. The professor, who teaches a course on Shakespeare, said this resource is invaluable.

"When you hear someone perform (the language), you understand it even if you don't get every word," he said. "You feel the language."

Hartvigsen said that the experience students are having studying Shakespeare in his class is vastly different than what he experienced. While studying as an undergraduate at Brigham Young University, Hartvigsen said that he had virtually no access to any performance.

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