Happy Birthday, William Shakespeare!

While the exact birth date of English poet, actor, and playwright William Shakespeare is unknown, it is believed to be April 23rd (which is coincidentally also the date of his death). And 2016 marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death! The author of plays such as Romeo and JulietHamlet, and Macbeth, Shakespeare is widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world’s pre-eminent dramatist.  He is often called England’s national poet and the “Bard of Avon.”

To celebrate this important anniversary, two of our wonderful authors, Stephanie Kate Strohm (The Taming of the Drew) and JoAnne Wetzel (Playing Juliet) are here to talk about their love of Shakespeare and why their books are perfect for young and teen readers that love him, his plays, and theater in general!


 

Stephanie Kate Strohm, author of YA novel The Taming of the Drew (on sale now!)

How did your love of Shakespeare start?
I was one of those kids who was firmly committed to spending her entire summer in the library. School was a pesky distraction from plowing my way through an enormous reading list; the minute the last bell of the year rang in June, I was firmly planted in the “Fables and Fairy Tales” aisle of the Fairfield Public Library. In between reading grisly accounts of Cinderella’s stepsisters slicing off bits of their feet, I stumbled across a volume entitled Tales from Shakespeare. I’d never heard of any of these stories, but they were just like fairy tales—or at least, the dark and disturbing German ones I’d been reading. There were fairies! Princesses! A true love’s kiss that didn’t totally work! (Sorry, Juliet) And plenty of stabbings! I was enthralled.

Soon after, my parents took me to see Twelfth Night at Shakespeare on the Sound, and to this day, I can vividly picture Malvolio’s yellow stockings, and remember how hard I laughed—even if I didn’t totally understand the language, it didn’t matter. The story transcended what I didn’t know. By the time I was eleven, I was playing Bianca in a production of The Taming of the Shrew that my family assures me was excruciating, and notable only for the obscene number of scene changes involving middle schoolers parading candlesticks on and off stage. They might have been in agony, but I was all bliss. I’d fallen head over heels in love with Shakespeare, and I’ve never looked back.

What’s your favorite Shakespeare play?
My favorite Shakespeare play is King Lear. (Remember how I said I love the grisly ones?) Edmund is my favorite villain, Cordelia is one of my favorite roles I’ve ever played, and I think the play has some of the most blisteringly beautiful lines in the English language. I like the comedies, too—I love Much Ado About Nothing—but I really like to leave a Shakespeare play sobbing and clutching my eye sockets in sympathy.

What’s your favorite Shakespeare movie adaptation?
When it comes to movies adaptations of Shakespeare plays, there is no contest, there is only 10 Things I Hate About You. Heath Ledger and Julia Styles have the kind of chemistry that crackles onscreen—just as the bard intended.

Why is your book great for young Shakespeare fans?
The Taming of the Drew is the book I would have wanted to read when I was in high school, back when my life’s ambition was to stab myself on stages around the country. The characters in The Taming of the Drew love Shakespeare the way that I did then, and still do. It may be the first YA novel that uses lines from Richard III as romantic banter—scratch that—it’s probably the first anything that uses lines from Richard III as romantic banter. I wanted to make Shakespeare’s plays feel the way they do to me—visceral, present, and alive. And if you don’t like Shakespeare . . . give him a try. He may surprise you. There’s a lot more to him than neck ruffs and the word “forsooth.”

Stephanie Kate Strohm is the author of Pilgrims Don’t Wear Pink and Confederates Don’t Wear Couture. She graduated with a dual degree in theater and history and has acted her way around the United States, performing in more than twenty-five states. She currently lives in Chicago with her fiancé and a dog named Lorelei Lee.

 


 

JoAnne Wetzel, author of middle-grade novel Playing Juliet (on sale now!)

How did your love of Shakespeare start?
I fell in love with Shakespeare at a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I was in the front row, watching the feuding fairies fight with flowers as their weapons. As leaves and blossoms flew everywhere, a trumpet flower landed in my lap. I inhaled its sweet scent and knew I was hooked. I had to see a production of every one of Shakespeare’s plays. How could I miss another experience that splendid?

There are 37 plays in The Complete Works of Shakespeare I’d used in college. Over the years, I checked off each play until King John was the only one left. It’s so rarely staged, I was lucky to find it opening in San Diego, only 450 miles away. It was the first time it had been produced in that city in 40 years. I flew there, checked King John off the list and congratulated myself. I’d seen all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays.

That week an email arrived from my daughter with HA! in the subject box. Shakespeare’s lost play Cardenio had been found and The Royal Shakespeare Company was putting it on as a rediscovered work. I flew to England to see it. Scholars have continued to add more plays to his canon. So far I’ve seen 39 plays by Shakespeare and will be seeing number 40 later this year, but this time I hope I’m not done. His plays are so good, wouldn’t it be wonderful if another one was discovered.

What’s your favorite Shakespeare play?
A Midsummer Night’s Dream (and The Tempest)

What’s your favorite Shakespeare movie adaptation?
The 1935 Warner Brothers film, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A teen-age Mickey Rooney played Puck and his joyous screeching laugh was perfect for the mischievous fairy who created such chaos in the story.

Why is your book great for young Shakespeare fans?
Playing Juliet introduces the reader to the world of the theater. It starts out with the fact that William Shakespeare’s Scottish play is considered so unlucky, no actor will say its title out loud. While that play is never named in the book, one of the characters figures it out, and provides enough clues that the reader can too. Not only does each chapter start with an epigraph from Shakespeare that foreshadows the next plot twist, he also wrote part of the dialogue. When our heroine is grounded, she keeps quoting Juliet as she trudges back to her room after dinner every night, from “O, sweet my mother, cast me not away,” to “O, shut the door, and when thou hast done so, come weep with me; . . .” Sadly, even Shakespeare’s words don’t work on her parents.

And, as Jane Yolen said in her review of the book, “. . . there’s an extra bonus in the back for teachers introducing the Bard to middle schoolers.”

JoAnne Stewart Wetzel
is a self-proclaimed theater geek, and she recently completed a twenty-year quest to see at least one production of every play written by Shakespeare. She is also a published author of two previous books for children, including a nonfiction theater book, Onstage/Backstage (Carolrhoda). Her picture book, The Christmas Box (Knopf), was named a Noteworthy Book for Children by Bank Street College of Education. She lives in Palo Alto, California.

 


Shakespeare lovers, what’s your favorite play and movie adaptation? Let us know in the comments!

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