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IU marks the deaths of Shakespeare and Cervantes with a lively celebration

Nov. 2, 2016

Faculty, staff, students and the Bloomington community experienced a multisensory funeral party in celebration of the deaths of literary masters William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes during the month of Halloween. 

Ellen MacKay

Department of English associate professor Ellen MacKay offers a toast to Shakespeare during "Bring Out Your Dead, Dancing on the Graves of Shakespeare and Cervantes" in President's Hall during the First Thursdays Festival on Oct. 6. | PHOTO BY JAMES BROSHER, IU COMMUNICATIONS

According to legend, Shakespeare and Cervantes died on the same day, April 23, 1616. To honor the 400th anniversary of their deaths, College of Arts and Sciences assistant professors Sonia Velazquez and Ellen MacKay organized "Bring Our Your Dead: Dancing on the Graves of Shakespeare and Cervantes."

The event was part of October's Arts and Humanities First Thursdays Festival and included theatrical performances, music and a multicourse dinner featuring Renaissance-style foods.

"I believe what made the event special was the collaboration and participation of so many people in the university -- from caterers to musicians, actors and faculty -- to put on an event that was equal parts fun and scholarly for a wide audience," said Velazquez, , assistant professor in religious studies and comparative literature. "The event was a confirmation and celebration of what a public university has to offer: a multisensory experiential gateway to the world of ideas, especially those that differ from ours."

The event drew a crowd of over 200 people. It featured talks about death and celebrity, performances of scenes written by Shakespeare and Cervantes, a sneak peek at Cardinal Stage's all-woman production of "Merchant of Venice" and music from the Jacobs School of Music Historical Performance Institute. Those who attended even got to take a whack at a piñata.

Emily Sullivan

Emily Sullivan performs a scene from Shakespeare's "Cymbeline" during the "Bring Out Your Dead" celebration. | PHOTO BY JAMES BROSHER, IU COMMUNICATIONS

"There were some impressive people at bat, though those piñatas were pretty resilient," said MacKay, associate professor of English. "Most of the M&Ms were shattered inside their packaging."

The evening ended with a jig, and Velazquez and MacKay hoped the celebration was not only fun but left a long lasting impression.

"Most of all, I hope that those attending -- students, community members, faculty -- left the event feeling proud of the amazing and wide-ranging work that is being done day to day by students and faculty in the Arts and Humanities at IU," Velazquez said.

Putting on the event was truly a labor of love, as student actors from the IU players prepared and performed scenes by finding time in their day-to-day schedules to rehearse. They included Jared Smith, Nicholas Munson, Eleanor Sobszyk, Tess Cunningham, Caleb Curtin and Emily Sullivan.

For MacKay, the performances, music and food brought Shakespeare and Cervantes and inspired reflection.

"I hope they discovered new ways of looking at famous literary figures and famous literary legacies," MacKay said. "I hope they felt invited to make the past meaningful according to their own terms. Four hundred years is a long time. We owe it to ourselves to consider what we want to carry forward from earlier 'Golden Ages,' and what we want to halt or let fade." 

The Bring Out Your Dead celebration aligns with priorities outlined in the university’s Bicentennial Strategic Plan, including a commitment to student success and celebrating IU's community of scholars.

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