Shakespeare Competition Encourages Language Appreciation

Clenching his fists and waving his arms, David Benedict ’15 stared at the audience members and urged each of them to join him in reciting a monologue from Shakespeare’s “The Life of King Henry the Fifth.”

Benedict was one of four students who took up the challenge to recite works by William Shakespeare during this past weekend’s annual English Speaking Union Shakespeare Competition at Andover.

As part of the challenge, participants were required to memorize one Shakespearean monologue and one Shakespearean sonnet. During the competition, they recited the pieces in front of a panel of judges, made up of four Andover English teachers.

The preliminary round of the competition was held at different high school venues across the United States. The winners of that round will advance to the regional semifinals in Wellesley, Massachusetts.

Following enthralling performances by Alex Tamkin ’14 and Roshan Mathi ’15, Claire Glover ’16 stepped to center stage. Her voice dipped and rose at every inflection, conveying the deep yearning expressed in the opening soliloquy of “Twelfth Night.”

Leaving a distinct impression on the judges, Glover was named the winner of the competition, with Benedict as runner-up.

“I love poetry,” Glover said. “I love how the words just flow into each other. There’s this assonance that just repeats itself over and over—constant assonance and consonance, the way that words sound together.

“My monologue is the beginning of ‘Twelfth Night,’ so it really sets the mood for the entire rest of the play. I was prepared to go back to the play and remember the context. I feel as if I was creating emotion from the original words, and not just imitating someone else’s performance of it,” she continued.

Benedict decided to participate in the competition because of his interest in the intonation and emotion present in Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets.

“You can tell that the ‘Once more unto the breach’ monologue from ‘Henry the V’ is the ultimate battle speech. I’ve always admired it, partially because I’m a total Anglophile, but also because it’s so patriotic and powerful. I just love it,” he said.

According to John Bird, Instructor in English and one of the judges, a passion for learning and understanding the Shakespearean language is a prerequisite to be able to fully engage as a competitor.

“It’s an activity that is sort of its own reward, in a way,” said Bird. “I hope the students get a sense of their stake in this language, their ownership of it, that it’s theirs. Shakespeare’s stuff is old, it’s weird, its alien… To be able to memorize and recite is to have a stake in it, to have ownership of this language in a very important way.”

As the winner of the Andover preliminary round, Glover will attend the regional semifinals on February 22 in Wellesley, Mass.