Birthday Bard

In a small room on the third floor of the James Madison Building, Patricia Gray, coordinator of the Library of Congress’s “Poetry at Noon” series, arranges a Shakespeare reading each year to celebrate the poet and playwright’s birthday.

Last week would have been William Shakespeare’s 443rd birthday. For many, he is still alive through his work, which is performed all over the world, over and over again.

At this year’s reading, before an audience of 20, five actors came to read their favorite work of The Bard, all of them students and graduates of the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Academy for Classical Acting at George Washington University. The audience listened to parts of Henry IV, Part 1, King Lear and Henry V. 

The amused audience appeared to relish the performances.

“It is another crowd that comes to the Shakespeare reading compared to the usual ‘Poetry at Noon’ readings,” Gray says. “I guess people think Shakespeare is difficult.

“I think Shakespeare understood human behavior. He wrote about things that happen every day,” adds Gray, who is also a poet. She loves Shakespeare’s personality, or at least the one she believes he had.

“He was so expansive and compassionate. I think he enjoyed life,” Gray says.

Toward the end of the reading, the enthused audience posed questions. Many thought the five actors had rehearsed for a long time, which wasn’t the case.

Unfortunately, questioning the actors had to be cut short. A woman in the audience took a bad step and believed she had broken her foot or leg. An ambulance came and brought her to the hospital. But this unfortunate drama during an ordinary day is exactly what the birthday boy would have written about.

As he once wrote: “All the world’s a stage,/ And all the men and women merely players./ They have their exits and their entrances,/ And one man in his time plays many parts,/ His acts being seven ages.”

The film series “Screening Shakespeare” will be shown at the Library of Congress through Aug. 31 at the Library’s James Madison Building (101 Independence Ave. SE). Films are free, but reservations are required. Call 202-707-5677 a week in advance. A schedule can be found at