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Shakespeare 101: Taking Students to Center Stage

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It seems to be the spring of William Shakespeare at Bay Path University. With our production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream right around the corner (March 22-25), students are getting their poetry and acting fix through English 330’s Shakespeare course. Through this course, students examine Shakespeare’s major plays, including representative comedies, tragedies, histories, and romances. In addition to overviews of Shakespeare’s life and Renaissance theatre traditions and practices, the course provides a look at the outlines of Shakespeare’s career and an introduction to scholarly criticism of his work. Attention is also given to Shakespearean themes, language, and characterization, as well as the influence of Shakespeare on later writers and art.

One of the students enrolled in this course is Paige Neylon ’20, who will also be performing in A Midsummer Night’s Dream as Puck. Neylon is a pre-occupational therapy student who has previously starred in other Bay Path productions including Mary Poppins (Robertson Ay), The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (Lucy), and most recently The Wizard of Oz (Scarecrow). When she’s not on stage, Paige enjoys spending time outdoors. She also serves as a work-study assistant in President Carol Leary’s office on campus. Her love for the performing arts led her to challenge herself in a new role and learn more about the world of Shakespeare. Neylon talks more about how the class has impacted her and her acting, and what makes it so unique to Bay Path in this Q & A segment:

Why did you choose to take this class?
This past semester, I’d seen high school productions at Shakespeare and Company in Lenox and thoroughly enjoyed all of the plays more than I thought I would, sparking my newfound interest in Shakespeare. I wanted to learn all I could about him and his work and became very interested in this upcoming production of Midsummer.

What is the classroom structure like? Is it more acting- or literature-based?
It’s a happy mix of both! Kevin [Barlowski, director of theatre and performance studies] has made it a mission to make this class as enjoyable as Shakespeare can be. He’s delving into the literature while also incorporating acting and fun, hands-on/on-your-feet activities that have the whole class laughing and enjoying themselves while also learning the hard concepts of Shakespeare.

How is it important to you personally? From an academic standpoint?
I’ve been interested in theater ever since I was a kid and always heard many wonderful things about Shakespeare. In high school, my class read Othello in the most grueling way, just sitting at our desks speaking each line monotone making my experience horrible. But I wanted to trust the opinions I found most reliable (like Kevin’s and Megan Fabiano’s, both of whom love Shakespeare more than anyone else I’ve met) and I wanted to see what the hype was truly about. I also know that if you can interpret Shakespeare, you can understand most literature. I love annotation and reading deeply into author’s meanings so finding another outlet to do so that’s also conveniently connected to the theater was perfect to work my mind.

What is one thing you enjoy about the class?
I enjoy learning fun facts that people don’t traditionally know about Shakespeare and his plays. For example, I never knew that Midsummer’s character Titania was based on Queen Elizabeth and that there are many jabs at the Queen within the play.

How do you feel you have personally grown from this experience?
I’ve learned to find a new acceptance and appreciation for Shakespeare that I never expected myself to have. I thought I’d never like it because I never understood it, but this class has developed my love of research. My curious mind has grown more curious and passionate due to this class’s push to find the answers to our questions ourselves.

Are you making any connections from class to the show?
Absolutely! The annotations assigned to us in class and the lessons taught to us have made my transition into my character more comfortable than I would have expected. Understanding the basis and the process behind Midsummer indeed allows me to envelop myself entirely in the text and its characters.

Why is it important to learn about this story?
It’s important to learn about this story because it is a straight jump into our history. This production is an abridged version of the exact texts that would have been presented over 400 years ago. It shows us people’s beliefs, morals, social processes, and so many more factors that we don’t see in modern day societies.

What are you most looking forward to about the show?
I’m looking forward to the moment it all falls into place, and each person is immersed in their character, and the flow of each event goes smoothly and with confidence. I can’t wait to watch the video of the performance and feel that pride well up in my chest at how well each person in this production has done. It’s going to be spectacular.

Anything else you would like to tell readers about the Shakespeare class?
I wholeheartedly recommend the ENG 330 class for people who are curious and want to challenge themselves to delve into the madness that is Shakespeare. He is marveled as a genius for a reason.

William Shakespeare still remains a classic icon for every generation. Students are diving into his work in class and on the stage to get the most unique learning experience. Interested in more Shakespeare or looking to combat your Shakesfear? You can see Paige Neylon show off her new Shakespearean skills as Puck in Bay Path’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream from March 22-25. Tickets are on sale now at!