SJR Column: Shakespeare Garden, September 2016
This September is an exciting time on the Springfield campus of the University of Illinois – with construction of the new Student Union well underway and more students choosing to pursue their U of I degree in the personalized environment for which UIS is so highly regarded.
UIS is also participating this Fall in an important worldwide celebration: the 400th anniversary of the death in 1616 of poet and playwright William Shakespeare, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language.
Thanks to an award from the Chester Fund of the University of Illinois, UIS will soon be unveiling a Shakespeare Garden on campus – a themed garden that features plants mentioned in the works of Shakespeare. The Bard often used plants and gardens as metaphors for life, with many important scenes taking place in garden settings.
For example: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” is a frequently referenced line spoken by Juliet to her lover, Romeo, in Shakespeare’s play “Romeo and Juliet”.
The Shakespeare Garden will include signs near each plant with the relevant quotation and reference to the appropriate play or poem, as well as a fountain, walkways, and benches. The centerpiece of the Garden is a life-sized bronze sculpture of the Bard himself, titled “Shakespeare,” by renowned sculptor Gary Lee Price. The sculpture depicts Shakespeare relaxing on a garden bench – an open invitation for visitors to sit beside him for a chat or a photo.
A lovely addition to the UIS campus, the Shakespeare Garden will be an educational resource and a place of enjoyment for students, faculty and staff. It will also be a destination that welcomes visitors and friends from the local Springfield community and beyond.
UIS English professor Ethan Lewis, an award-winning teacher/scholar and resident Shakespeare expert, couldn’t be more pleased about the latest soon-to-be campus landmark.
For the past 20 years, Dr. Lewis has directed “The Shakespeare Project” at UIS, a popular seminar series for undergraduate students that uses Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets as “terrain for critical thinking” about issues that affect our lives today.
“The Bard uncannily interrogates every age,” says Dr. Lewis. “We feel, reading him, as though he were reading us.”
“The Shakespeare Garden will be an ideal sanctuary,” he says, “like one of Shakespeare’s sonnets – offering space for reflection and peace.”
Eric Thibodeaux-Thompson, Associate Professor of Theatre and Director of the UIS Theatre program, teaches a course titled “Playing Shakespeare” and has directed and acted in many Shakespeare plays. In fact, Eric will play the lead in the UIS Theatre production of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” later this Fall – another part of our 400th anniversary celebration.
“Shakespeare is for everybody,” Eric remarks. “He talks about what we are all going through – themes like power, love, jealousy, right vs. wrong – all are as relevant today as they were when he wrote about them over 400 years ago.”
“I love the idea of a Shakespeare Garden on campus,” he says. “It sends a message that we value the liberal arts – the soul-filling side of the university experience.”
James Ermatinger, UIS Interim Provost, longtime Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and himself a medieval historian, notes that the Shakespeare Garden provides a cogent reminder of UIS’s membership in the prestigious Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges. COPLAC is a selective group of only 30 colleges and universities nationwide that have committed to providing a superior liberal arts foundation for all students as an essential part of their university experience.
“It couldn’t be more fitting,” Ermatinger says, “that a Shakespeare Garden will now be part of the UIS landscape.”
Shakespeare’s Garden will be unveiled at a public celebration on Thursday, September 29th at 1:30 p.m. in Patton Park, located next to Brookens Library on the UIS campus. The celebration will include a brief program and the sculpture unveiling, followed by refreshments.
The UIS Theatre production of “Macbeth”, one of the world’s most famous plays, will be presented October 28 – 30th and November 3 – 6 in the UIS Studio Theatre. Tickets are available through the Sangamon Auditorium Ticket Office.
I hope you’ll join us for both these special events at UIS as we celebrate Shakespeare in 2016!
Susan J. Koch, Chancellor of University of Illinois Springfield