When English professor David Kastan first emailed University President Richard Levin in the middle of the night one year ago about hosting a celebration of Shakespeare at Yale, he wasn’t sure what the President’s response would be. He wasn’t even sure if Levin knew who he was.
“At that point, I had met [Levin] once,” Kastan said. “I started to write an email at about 3 a.m. saying ‘Dear President Levin — I’m not sure you know who I am, but I have an idea.’”
His idea was simple. Kastan, an English professor who came to Yale from Columbia in 2008, wanted to bring attention to the wealth of Shakespeare related resources available through the University’s libraries and other collections by having various arts organizations sponsor events related to the Bard and his works.
Apparently, the man in charge of Yale University shared some of his fascination with Shakespeare. By 6 a.m, Levin had responded to Kastan’s email, telling him to set up an appointment with his secretary.
The result of their conversations is Shakespeare at Yale, a semester-long celebration of Shakespeare that will include performances, lectures, exhibits and other events sponsored by various organizations that will take place in spring 2012. The list of groups participating in the project — which has not been previously announced — includes nearly every major arts organization on campus, as well as several other partners, including the Yale Law School, School of Art, School of Drama and School of Music.
“Yale has the best collection of early versions of Shakespeare of any university in America,” Kastan said. “Every time I pushed on a door, whether at the Beinecke or the Elizabethan Club, I discovered something else that I didn’t know was here.”
Levin said he thought Kastan’s ideas for using the resources of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library and the Yale Center for British Art to celebrate the study of Shakespeare were “really exciting.” He quickly showed Kastan his support by helping him put together a team to work on the project and by providing the project with some discretionary funding, Levin said.
And Levin is not alone in his enthusiasm about the celebration.
Dean of Yale Law School, Robert Post LAW ’77, is one of the more unexpected supporters of the project and has already expressed to Kastan his interest in organizing an event. The Lillian Goldman Law Library is one of four libraries on campus that will sponsor an exhibit as part of Shakespeare at Yale. The Law School’s exhibit will focus on Shakespeare and the Law, including information from Kenjo Yoshino’s LAW ’96 upcoming book on that topic.
In addition to the more humanities-oriented schools who plan to participate in the festivities, Kastan said he is interested in getting the School of Medicine involved.
Kastan said he was surprised at how quickly different organizations mobilized to be a part of Shakespeare at Yale and that he hears on a daily basis from other groups that want to be involved.
“People are really excited,” Pitt said. “The main opportunities are going to be for theater productions, but if we can tie in as many related art forms into the initiative, that’d be great”
The funding from Levin helped bring Kate Krier DRA ’07 of the Theater Studies department onboard as program coordinator. She will organize the event along with two student coordinators, Kate Pitt ’12 and Bonnie Antosh ’13. Kastan and Krier both highlighted the efforts of Jonathan Edwards College Master, Penelope Laurans, who they said has been instrumental in reaching out to various partnering organizations.
In addition to these groups, the Yale Repertory Theater, School of Drama, Whitney Humanities Center, Yale Drama Coalition and other arts organizations on campus will also sponsor productions and other events. Productions of “Coriolanus,” “Othello,” “Macbeth” and “Hamlet” will all be staged as senior projects for the Theater Studies Department.
Drew Henderson contributed reporting.