Murray State Hosts Kentucky Shakespeare Company for 20th Annual Shakespeare Festival

Feb 29, 2020

The Murray State College of Humanities and Fine Arts are preparing to host their 20th annual Shakespeare Festival next week. Festival chair and MSU professor of English, Rusty Jones, visits Sounds Good to discuss the upcoming festival and its featured play, Hamlet.

For the 20th year of Shakespearean celebration, Murray State will host actors from Louisville-based Kentucky Shakespeare theatre company. "This is the first time they've ever been to Murray State, so they're excited," Jones says. "They generally work around the eastern part of the state. They've never been this far west before. We're the beginning of their Hamlet tour, so they're excited to get on its feet for the first time here on campus. We're really looking forward to forming a long-lasting partnership with them."

Kentucky Shakespeare was founded in 1949, and the company currently serves over 100,000 people annually through the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival in Central Park, education programs in schools, public performances, and community outreach. Last season, Kentucky Shakespeare traveled to 97 counties, serving over 70,000 students.

The play around which the festival is centered this year is Hamlet. For those unfamiliar with the play's story, Jones uses Disney's The Lion King as a more commonly known reference point. 

"If you've seen The Lion King, then you already know Hamlet," Jones explains. "You've got a young man who's off in college and finds out his dad is dead. His mother has remarried his father's brother, so his uncle. He's deeply disturbed by this, and he's in mourning and having great troubles with it."

"He's told by his ghost dad that he needs to avenge his murder at the hands of his own brother, Hamlet's uncle. Hamlet spends a great deal of the play examining his own condition as a human and what it means to take revenge, to not take revenge, to exercise mercy or not. He has a relationship with Ophelia, who suffers at his hands and the hands of others."

"[Hamlet] really is a tragedy about the human condition," Jones continues. "I think that when Hamlet says 'conscience makes cowards of us all,' it's the fact that we as humans tend to overthink things and go through all the permutations...sometimes, the results can be stasis and fear. It's really just about how we as humans operate."

Kentucky Shakespeare's rendition of Hamlet is a fast-paced, 90-minute performance. "They do some really innovative things," Jones says. "It should be a fantastic production. There will be talkbacks with the Kentucky Shakespeare actors after each performance. If you, as an audience member, are anticipating a very slow and boring 2 hour and 55-minute Hamlet...I don't think this is going to be that."

Hamlet performances will take place in Lovett Auditorium on Wednesday, March 4th, and Thursday, March 5th, from 10:00 to 11:30 a.m and Thursday, March 5th, and Friday, March 6th, from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $5 for Murray State students, faculty, and staff and $10 for the general public. Tickets can be purchased at the door. 

The Murray State Shakespeare Festival will also be presenting related events and activities, including a flash mob, discussion panel, and lectures:

Tuesday, March 3rd

  • Shakespeare Flash Mob
    (12:00-1:00 p.m. in the Curris Center Rocking Chair Lounge)
    -  Juliet vs. Ophelia Shakespearian insult battle, skull hot potato, and more.
  • Discussion Panel: "Giving Sorrow Words: Exploring Grief as a Healthy Psychological Process"
    (6:00-7:00 p.m. in the Calloway County Public Library Meeting Room)
    -  Drs. Michael Bordieri and Esther Malm from MSU's Dept. of Psychology will host an in-depth discussion of strategies for dealing with grief in one's life.

Wednesday, March 4th

  • Public Lecture: Dr. Barbara Cobb, "Who Sees Ophelia Drown?"
    (4:30-5:30 p.m. in Waterfield Library Gallery)
    -  Dr. Barbara Cobb of the Department of English and Philosophy explores the contradictions and paradoxes of Ophelia's death as reported by Queen Gertrude in Shakespeare's Hamlet

For more information on the Murray State Shakespeare Festival, including how to make school group reservations, call 270-809-2397, e-mail Rusty Jones at wjones1@murraystate.edu, or visit the Murray State website