Pop quiz: What do a pig puppet named Hamlet (Get it?) and about a dozen Boise elementary school students have in common?
You wouldn’t be incorrect if you ventured that all are adorable, but the answer we’re looking for is a little more specific: All performed on Saturday in proximity to a 400-year-old book that you can see in Boise for just one more day, Wednesday.
Exuent and avaunt, then, and get thee to the nearest nunnery, er, the nearest Yanke Family Research Center (at 220 E. Parkcenter in Boise), because what many who know about these things consider to be the most important book, literally, in English literature is about to be packed up and sent back to its home at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.
The exhibit, which also showcases the Treasure Valley’s long love affair with William Shakespeare, has free admittance and is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Boise will bid adieu to the book with a burst of fanfare befitting such an auspicious tome, starting at 7 with a performance by the Idaho Dance Theater.
The company will remount "Friends and Lovers," Shakespeare's language put to dance, and a panel will outline how the book came to Idaho and what happened while it was here. And cake. There will also be cake. That would be the sweet in the sorrow at the parting.
But so what is it about an old book in a glass case that you can’t touch? Why should you bother to go see it?
For that, we go back, first, to the children who performed and were enrapt on Saturday.
When a team from the Boise Public Library invited children to come up and sit on the floor, a pied piper couldn't have been more pleased as about two dozen children melted toward the puppet stand at the front, almost hypnotically.
The children didn't know that when the pig puppet said, "Words, words, words" or "To be or not to be," that they were hearing Shakespeare. And we can't know whether them hearing those and other phrases on Saturday was the first time they heard Shakespeare, and none of us will be present for the a-ha moment at which those children make the connection -- if they indeed ever do -- between Saturday's puppet show and the future moment at which the meaning will click for them.
But that's the thing.
It’s not about the book. It’s about what the book represents. And what the book represents is a centuries-old appeal to our better natures, to our senses of humor, to our yearnings and desires, to our thirst for knowledge and for an understanding of the human condition, all brought to life by a range of famed and forgotten actors over centuries and, yes, even a pig puppet. Shakespeare is everywhere.
Matt Hansen is an English professor at Boise State. He teaches a class through which his students invade elementary schools in Boise to teach kids how to trod the boards.
"These students can, with effective explanation and support, get any play we put in front of them," Hansen said. "Younger students can still get it, but 10-, 11- and 12-year-olds are optimum, in my opinion. Generally speaking, they don't have the fears and hang-ups that older students often have about Shakespeare being boring or too difficult or confusing. Kids at this age are incredibly smart and they are learning sponges."
About 16 students from Whittier, Lowell and Taft elementary schools -- an all-star assemblage, Hansen said -- performed a truncated "Much Ado About Nothing" for more than 100 people on Saturday.
Hansen said that when people ask him how it is that his "Shake It Up After School" program works, what it is that makes Shakespeare so timeless and accessible, they might find his answer surprising.
"Almost none of Shakespeare's plots were original to him," Hansen said. Shakespeare borrowed and blended plot and theme that were as familiar to his original audiences as they are today. "Shakespeare is a great repackager."
But, Hansen said, there's even more than just tapping into the familiar.
"His language is the most amazing aspect of the plays and the words he gives to his characters and the level of psychological awareness they are able to articulate is core to human experience in nearly every culture, every time and every place."
And, for a few more hours, Treasure Valley residents can take a peek at the first compilation of those plays.
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