Happy Birthday Shakespeare

Image from the Manhattan Shakespeare Project

To be or not to be…that is the question… especially when it comes to implementing teen programming all about Shakespeare. As youth services library workers, we know that William Shakespeare is one of the greatest playwrights of all time. It’s only natural for libraries to celebrate his birthday by providing attractive displays and programming for the month of April. Given the amount of amount of distraction and noise via the internet, teens aren’t exactly running into the library to check out King Lear. Although the reasons for teens not getting excited about Shakespeare vary greatly, we can easily introduce Shakespeare to our teens through Pop Culture, Art, and Digital Resources.

According to the YALSA’s The Future of Library Services for and with Teens: A Call to Action (2014)1:

The library profession has come to understand literacy as much more than a cognitive ability to read and write, but as a social act that involves basic modes of participating in the world.44 This fundamental shift means that school and public librarians no longer view literacy merely as a technical competency that can be added to people as though they were machines, but rather as a social practice that varies from one context to another and is part of cultural knowledge and behavior.

When I was teen, I remember how Hamlet infuriated me. At the time, I had no idea why I would need Hamlet ever. As an adult, I am grateful for that experience because Shakespeare didn’t write Hamlet to annoy teenagers: he wrote it to help the world understand the human condition when the soul is tortured by grief and selfishness. My hope is that teens are still reading Shakespeare in school, but, due to issues such as standardized testing, lack of funds, and no access to these materials, libraries can easily lend a helping hand. I mean, he is responsible for over 1600 words of the English language, but teens may never know this unless they attend a Shakespeare 101 class. As youth services library workers, we have the ability to not only introduce to teens the life, world, and art of William Shakespeare, we also have the skills to take a creative and modern approach to his works to help teens develop as critical thinkers and passionate human beings. Here are a couple of ideas that can help teens better appreciate the Bard a little more.

MIT & The Shakespearean Insult Kit

In 1992, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) created The MIT Global Shakespeare Project granting free access to everything Shakespeare. This project was developed to create a digital platform where teachers, and students, can access materials including images of the original folios and the original text displayed next to the image. In this website, I discovered an incredibly useful tool to not only make Shakespeare fun, but convey to teens the depths of Shakespeare’s words and genius: A Shakespearean Insult Kit.

If you have yet to throw a Shakespearean Insult Competition, I highly recommend it. When you find a kit you like, the best part of it is to split teens up into two groups and they take turns throwing insult after insult at each another. If you really want to get creative, invite local actors to help inspire teens by teaching them theater techniques to add insult to injury. Another option is to invite the local high school drama clubs to spar with one another because if other teens don’t feel like participating, they will have fun watching and listening. This particular exercise is a great way to have fun with Shakespeare because he was the original master of insults and will help teens build confidence by being silly.

Sonnet Writing Workshop

If your library sponsors writing workshops, celebrate the life of William Shakespeare with a sonnet writing workshop. Along with his plays, Shakespeare’s sonnets are, in my opinion, some of the greatest gifts he has bestowed upon humankind. If your teens have yet to read any of Shakespeare’s sonnets, MIT has a great list of his sonnets to demonstrate the power of Shakespeare’s poetry. In fact, have teens pull up this list of sonnets on their digital devices, or provide them with one, and have them read a sonnet or two.

This workshop is also a great way to connect with community partners and local artists who will be willing to provide teens with instruction and, if possible, invite them to the local theater to hear actors perform the sonnets. Also, depending on the interest of your group, invite a Shakespeare expert from the local college to teach teens how to analyze Shakespeare’s sonnets.

Lastly, if teens are willing to participate, end the workshop series with an open mic night at your library complete with refreshments where teens can perform their sonnets in honor of William Shakespeare’s birthday in front of their friends, families, community partners, and special guests. In fact, award the teens with the best sonnets with a fancy Shakespeare pin or medal to show our appreciation for their courage and creativity.

Shakespeare Movie Afternoon 

One can never go wrong with movie programs, but make this event more appealing by creating an environment that will envelop teens, especially the food! Here is a list of some great movie adaptions of Shakespeare’s plays that will appeal to teens:

  • Warm Bodies (Rated PG-13)
    • Theme: Zombie Love
    • Provide zombie themed snacks that teens can devour through. Maybe a zombie brain cake?
  • 10 Things I Hate About You (Rated PG-13)
    • Theme: Late 90s
    • Since this movie embodied my youth, I highly recommend providing teens with funfetti cupcakes, ring pops, and pop rocks.
  • Twelfth Night Or What You Will (Rated PG)
    • Theme: Late 19th Century/Victorian England
    • Host a lovely High Tea Party where teens can enjoy some tasty finger sandwiches, scones, and desserts.
  • Ran (Not Rated; Japanese Samurai Film)
    • Theme: Feudal Japan
    • Provide teens with an array of popular Japanese treats such as Pocky, Japanese Candy, Green Tea ice cream, and anything you else you can find! Although most of these treats didn’t exist during the time period of the movie, it’s a lot easier and cheaper than making or buying a traditional Japanese spread.
  • Romeo+Juliet (Rated PG-13)
    • Theme: Masquerade/Costume Party
    • The most stunning part of this movie is the masquerade ball that the Montague boys crash. This also happens to be the same scene where Romeo and Juliet meet for the first time. Food can go anyway, but, providing teens with supplies to make masks could be just as fun!

This event will involve a little more work on your part, but all of the food can be store bought and very cheap. The purpose behind the themed party is to make teens feel they are a part of the story because it was Shakespeare who suggested that we are all performing on a massive stage known as Earth. Lastly, by showing a variety of cultural interpretations of Shakespeare’s works, teens will learn about a time, and place, they may have never heard about before. As Shakespeare wrote, in Midsummer Night’s Dream, “The lunatic, the lover, and the poet, are of imagination all compact” so go crazy for the sake of your teens in the name of William Shakespeare!


  1. http://www.ala.org/yaforum/sites/ala.org.yaforum/files/content/YALSA_nationalforum_final.pdf


The Hub – Shakespeare inspired YA Fiction

About Deborah Takahashi

Deborah Takahashi is a Senior Librarian for the Monterey Park Bruggemeyer Library. Deborah has been working with teens and children for seventeen years and loves every minute. Deborah is also the author of "Serving Teens with Mental Illness at the Library: A Practical Guide."

Comments are closed.

Post Navigation