At 2:45 on Saturday afternoon, students carried 108 library books by the armful through the halls of the Pierson basement.
No, they were not preemptively researching a massive term paper. On the contrary, they were making final preparations for the 24-Hour Shakespeare Marathon, an all-night celebration of the Bard’s entire oeuvres. The organizers seemed eager to start, as their excited whistling echoed down the corridors.
Paul Selker ’08, who brought the marathon to Yale for the first time last year, was so excited that he woke up at 7:00 a.m. on Saturday morning and couldn’t fall back asleep. He spent his morning putting up signs which lead participants all the way from the Pierson gate on Elm Street towards entryway E, down the stairs, past the official tally and into the four rooms where the plays would be read aloud.
At 3:00, everyone formed a loose huddle in the game room and laughed over a few stories about last year’s event. Then they divvied up into two teams of four for histories and comedies, as though they were starting a pick-up game of Frisbee. In the Comedies room, the four participants each grabbed a copy of “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” and quickly settled into the more sober flow of iambic pentameter.
Taking a book of sonnets up to the Pierson green, Selker said the marathon is more about the experience than the academics. While other students played soccer on the grass, Adam Stempel ’11 perched in a tree with a book of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Down in the game room, the TV transformed into an easel for the Comedies tally board, and the pool table became a makeshift bookshelf.
But Selker had other reasons for bringing the idea, first enacted by the Wellesley College Shakespeare Society, to Yale. He wanted people to experience Shakespeare in a fresh way.
“Reading aloud in class, people don’t naturally feel the character, even if they’ve studied Shakespeare forever,” he said. “After a whole night, you read with so much more sensitivity to the text.”
Others came to get a first introduction to unfamiliar works by Shakespeare. Alexander Martone ’10 planted himself in the Histories room for the marathon’s 24 hours.
“I hadn’t read most any of the histories, so this was a good way to experience them for the first time,” he said.
Although last year the Shakespeare lovers used four classrooms in Linsley-Chittenden, the marathon moved to Pierson this year “due to an unfortunate set of circumstances,” said the sign on the Pierson gate. Selker said the Yale College administration makes it difficult to use LC classrooms for overnight events.
By 2:45 on Sunday afternoon, empty doughnut boxes and pizza cartons laid open on the floors, seats and counters. About a third of the signs leading from the Pierson gate to entryway E had ripped in the night. Were the readers faring any better?
Martone was surprised with himself. He had been there since a little after 3 p.m. on Saturday and stayed awake the whole time, with the help of coffee.
“Some time during ‘Henry VI, Part 2’ I was in and out,” he admitted.
April Lawson ’10, who had been there since 2 a.m., was “a little tired.”
“I sort of like this zone you get into when not sleeping,” she said. “You don’t focus on anything else.”
At 2:55, Selker was in the Tragedies room, impatiently windmilling the Friar’s monologue from “Romeo and Juliet.” As he had predicted the day before, they weren’t going to finish in time.
“All our rooms are on their last play,” he said. “Then we’re going to go on to ‘Hamlet’ together.”
Selker estimated that “Hamlet,” “one of the grandest, richest plays,” would take about three hours to read, pushing their end time back to 6:00 p.m.
Although behind schedule, the marathon was finishing faster than the previous year, and had a higher attendance. At its peak, there were enough participants to start a fifth room for making up time.
However, attendance eventually reached a low. Around 7 to 9 a.m. on Sunday morning, it dwindled to two readers in each room.
Emmy Waldman ’10, who lives in the entryway above the event, remarked, “I didn’t think the turnout looked all that great. But it seemed fun.”
She could hear madrigals late Saturday night from her room on the second floor.
Lawson agreed that there was a sense of frivolity in the air, as Shakespeare’s poetry was supplemented with small bursts of singing. Backup singers assisted the readers of “Romeo and Juliet” by providing songs from the soundtrack of Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film adaptation.
She and Selker also marveled over the persistence of some attendees: one wrote part of a paper while at the marathon; another read “Love’s Labour’s Lost” in about a half-hour; or Laura Marcus ’10, who read all of “Pericles, Prince of Tyre” by herself.