Dr. Bethany Sinnott prepares to retire

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 28, 2011

By Susan Shinn
Catawba College News Service
SALISBURY — Fifth-graders at Bostian Elementary School got a taste of the Bard on April 19, as Donna Rymer’s AIG class presented a Shakespeare festival. Special guest was Dr. Bethany Sinnott, Catawba College professor of English, who retires this spring after more than 40 years of service to the institution.
Rymer, a 1993 graduate of Catawba, helped her 10 fifth-graders create a program of everything Shakespeare. The appreciative audience of classmates, parents, grandparents and siblings learned much about the man born April 23, 1564. Interestingly, he died on his birthday, in 1616.
The students dressed the part. There were fair ladies, swordsmen, jesters and even the Bard himself, played by Zac Lee.
“I’m just gonna speak for Shakespeare a little and then I’m going to play Romeo,” he said.
Chloe Kirkpatrick and Collin Wilson were dressed as court jesters. Their role, Chloe said, was to “act silly and be for comic relief.”
Lillie Tucker was a self-described diva and narrator.
“It’s been a really fun experience for me,” she said, “getting to act with my peers and play around a little bit.”
In their study of Shakespeare, Rymer said, they’d all made masks and shields.
Then it was time to perform.
“Places, everybody, places!” Rymer said, as her students walked single file into the media center.
“I’m the fool and I am footloose and fancy free,” Collin said in his opening monologue. “We’re here to celebrate the life and times of a fellow named Shakespeare.”
Chloe explained the different types of Shakespeare plays — tragedies, comedies, histories, romances.
Devin Gay and Emma Milem shared the history of the Globe Theatre, where Shakespeare’s plays were performed. Other class members included Mckayla Post, Ally Black, Max Steele and Ian Ramirez.
The entire class sang songs about Shakespeare to the tune of “London Bridge is Falling Down” and “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep.”
They talked about Shakespeare’s many contributions to the language — some 800 words survive.
If someone says, “It’s Greek to me” or “To thine own self be true,” then, the students exclaimed, “YOU are quoting Shakespeare!”
The class recited Sonnet 18 (“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?) along with famous quotes from 10 Shakespearean plays.
They also performed a condensed version of “Romeo and Juliet.”
Sinnott told the students that she was “delighted” with the performance (using another one of Shakespeare’s many words).
“I see a lot of talent and real interest in Shakespeare,” Sinnott said, commending the class for its knowledge of the actor and playwright.
Sinnott noted that Shakespeare used sound to enhance meaning, such as Macbeth talking about “not all the water in the rough, rude sea.”
“We create words in our own day,” she added, such as “Twitter” and “text.”
Sinnott gave examples of words created by the Bard, including “bedroom,” “bonnet,” “amazing,” “assassin,” “delighted” and “excitement.” The students especially liked “anthropophaginian,” the word for cannibals.
“Ewwwww!” they said, grinning in delight.
She talked about how words put flesh on the characters in “Romeo and Juliet,” the wit of Mercutio, the scatterbrained actions of the nurse, the love Romeo and Juliet feel for one another.
Rymer said afterward that this study of Shakespeare was at an introductory level, and the students used both adapted and authentic language to learn about his plays.
“We try to make it fun and interesting,” Rymer said. “They had fun with this.”
Sinnott was happy to answer students’ questions after their presentation. They wanted to know what her favorite Shakespeare play was (“Hamlet,” with “King Lear” as a close second.) They wanted to know the most violent of Shakespeare’s plays was. They guessed “Macbeth.”
“No!” she said. “It is ‘Titus Andronicus,’ which you don’t want to see.”
Sinnott pronounced it “very bloody” and said seeing it once was enough for her.
They asked about the original location of the Globe Theatre, and whether Shakespeare really was the author of all those plays.
They even wanted to know Shakespeare’s middle name.
“He didn’t have one,” Sinnott said, explaining that middle names came into use after Shakespeare’s time.
Freelance writer Susan Shinn is a full-time student at Catawba College.