Shakespeare in the Afternoon

Cobbe portrait of Shakespeare. Public Domain
Cobbe portrait of Shakespeare. Public Domain

On a Tuesday afternoon at the Harvard Club, a special interest group of erudite literary aficionados came together for their weekly intellectual repast in an event called Shakespeare in the Afternoon. Their, they read poems and plays by one of the greatest writers in the English language, William Shakespeare.

Far from Stratford-upon-Avon, Michael O. Finkelstein, who graduated with an AB from Harvard University in the mid-1950s, hosted the hour-long meeting with fanfare and excitement. Finkelstein,  once an author for the Harvard Crimson publication, chooses either a comedy, historical, tragedy, or poetry piece, and in an orderly fashion, attendees read aloud to absorb, characterize, and discuss Shakespeare’s writing. The events calendar claims, “No acting experience required.”

Hamlet. Shakespeare Quartos Project. Public Domain

Hamlet. Shakespeare Quartos Project. Public Domain

On August 31, 9 pm sounded the conclusion of their dramatic reading of Shakespeare’s historical play, Henry VI, which was thought to be one of his earliest works. Written around 1591, Henry VI is structured in three parts. Historians cannot agree whether Shakespeare wrote the 3-act play in chronological order, and Henry VI is considered by many as one of Shakespeare’s weakest literary efforts, with some suspecting collaboration with other writers to produce the work. But that didn’t stop the group from enjoying the hour reading the final scenes from the play.

During the reading, Finkelstein pointed out that Shakespeare stuck close to historical facts in the play; thus, the readers in the group could enjoy the wondrous words Shakespeare weaves throughout the play while receiving a free history lesson along the way.

The play provides contextual insights into the conflicts of the King’s reign, which led to The War of the Roses. In Part 1, heir apparent Henry VI becomes King upon his father’s death, prompting bickering in the court; Henry wonders if he can hold England together as the country loses its stronghold over their French territories. Part 2 deals with the often violent infighting in Henry’s court. Part 3 showcases the horrors of war.

Finkelstein engaged the group to prompt questions about the work and share their thoughts on the scenes and passages. Literary enthusiasts and writers could find no better way to spend their day than honestly acting out the characters written about so long ago. Shakespeare’s words bring us back to historical events of which modern readers may not be aware, noting his wisdom of human conflict exposed in the play that continues to this day.

Shakespeare in the Afternoon is open to all members of the Harvard Club, and interested thespians may contact Michael O. Finkelstein through the Harvard Club front desk at 212-827-1212.

The runtime was about 60 minutes.

Readers may also enjoy Art for the Sake of ArtThe Largo from Dvorak’s New World Symphony, and Wilfred Owen’s Anthem for Doomed Youth.

”Now is the winter of our discontent” Soliloquy – Laurence Olivier

Shakespeare in the Afternoon


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