Annual Shakespeare's Birthday Celebration

On April 23, 2020, we will celebrate Shakespeare's 455th birthday on the Saint Anselm campus for the 32nd time. The English Department welcomes students, staff, faculty, and friends of Saint Anselm to join in the celebration.

The Beginning of a 32-Year-Old Tradition

On Monday, April 25, 1989, Professor Gary Bouchard stepped out on to the quad in front of the still brand new statue of Saint Anselm to lead the campus in a reading of all 154 of Shakespeare's Sonnets in celebration of William's birthday. The Bard was a mere 425 years old that year, and Bouchard was still pretty young himself, or at least still blonde on top and wet behind the professorial ears. About 75 readers took part in that initial marathon reading. As the quatrains and couplets cut through the crisp April air, New Hampshire Public Radio recorded many of them, and when Professor Landis Magnuson made a surprise entrance down the stairs of Alumni Hall in full Elizabethan regalia, The Union Leader was there to capture it on film.

Captured April 25, 1989, Professors Gary Bouchard and Landis Magnuson at the first celebration

As Professor Edward Comiskey, former Director of the Anselmian Abbey Players, turned out to read 154 to close out the celebration, it was clear that a tradition had been born and that come rain, snow, wind or sudden springtime sun, Saint Anselm would be hearing the echo of sonnets each year on Shakespeare's birthday. The following year, the Abbey Players got into the act, got into several acts in fact, adding to the celebration with scenes from Shakespeare plays. Madrigals and Early Modern music made it onto the program and soon enough the marathon reading was a legitimate festival, made more special each year by the return of alumni from days gone by.

Learn More

  • Resources

    In case you want to learn more about the Bard, see additional resources below:

    Shakespeare in the News: NPR story on the Bard's sonnets and DNA, "Shall I Encode Thee In DNA? Sonnets Stored On Double Helix"


  • In Memoriam

    Missing Some of our Dearest Readers

    Professor Edward Comiskey

    Professor Stephen Krantz

    Professor Robert Goulet

    Professor Barbara Stahl

    Father Daniel Dempski, O.S.B.

    Mr. Robert Wall, '48

    Mr. Paul Reilly, '50

    Mr. James Harold Bradley, '52

  • Sonnet Reading Trivia


    1. Most Saint Anselm alumni associate Shakespeare's birthday with the location where they read their sonnet, but over the years the festival has actually taken place in five different locations on campus. Can you name them? Answer

    2. Besides Professor Bouchard (who once had to finagle several airplane reservations and run through airports to make it back in time for the festival after his father's funeral) only two other readers have read sonnets every single year. Each of these readers had to read their sonnet from a remote location at least once, but both have remained ever faithful. Who are they? Answer

    3. Sixteen years ago, Prof. Ann Norton had to forego reading her scheduled sonnet for what remarkable excuse? Answer

    4. By the end of the day, how many lines of poetry are read during the sonnet marathon? (yes, this is a trick question) Answer

    5. Besides English, Shakespeare's sonnets at the festival have been rendered in how many other languages over the years? Answer

    6. One of the most dramatic moments at the festival occurred the year a young man used the occasion of his sonnet to propose marriage to his unsuspecting beloved. Do you know who the still happy couple was and what sonnet the romantic profferer used to plead his case? Answer

    7. The marathon Shakespeare Sonnet Reading, which was brought to Saint Anselm by Professor Bouchard from Loyola University in Chicago, has spawned at least one spinoff where an English major alum turned English professor leads his own version of the festival each April. Can you name the alumnus (married to an English major alumna) and the campus where that festival takes place? Answer

    8. Besides the triumphant productions of The Abbey Players, the festival has periodically featured the antic dispositions of what other local theatrical company (hint: their motto is "The worse we do the better we are")? Answer

    9. Besides members of the Saint Anselm community, young readers have come to read sonnets from how many primary, middle, and high schools over the years? Answer

    10. Those who are traveling or living far away have over the years phoned in their sonnet. Which of the following locations is NOT one from which someone has phoned in their reading: The Globe Theatre in London; the University of Chicago; the University of Notre Dame; via satellite from Omaha Nebraska; Helena, Montana, the Red Arrow Diner in downtown Mancherdam. Answer

    11. The youngest reader to ever give voice to a sonnet at the festival was how old? Answer

    12. Over the years, people have read their sonnets from out of windows and offered other unusual deliveries. What was the name of the only sonnet reader to ever complete her entire sonnet while in a handstand? Answer

    13. One of the familiar emblems of the Shakespeare Sonnet Reading is the student-designed button proudly worn by each Sonnet Reader. Including this year's how many different Sonnet Reader Buttons have been fashioned over the years? Answer

    14. The sturdy cardboard replica of Shakespeare has been an emblem of the festival for the past twenty years or so. Some think he looks a little too Spanish and others are reminded of a creepy relative from their past. Do you know the peculiar origins of this novel card-bard? Answer

    15. How many pounds of birthday cake have been served over the years at the Shakespeare Festival? Answer


    1. The festival began on the quad in front of Alumni Hall (1), but in the years when bad weather forced it indoors it was held in the Pub (2). When the noise of the construction of the Goulet renovation prevented it from being on the front quad we moved behind Alumni Hall where we discovered the wonderfully Elizabethan enclosed courtyard (3) that has been host to the festival on most years. During one year of torrential rain the reading took place inside the Chapel Arts Center (4). Twice the festival has been held in our now agreed-upon rain site of Upper Cushing (5). This year's 25th debuts for the first time on the seal of Saint Anselm College on the new lower quad.

    2. Professor Landis K. Magnuson and Fr. John Fortin, O.S.B.

    3. She was giving birth to her second daughter, who as it turns out was not named William. Rebecca Teevan-Norton turns 16 this April 23rd!

    4. 2156 (so long as one doesn't count the replica readings in other languages). This is an easy calculation of 14 lines X 154 sonnets, but only the real Shakespeareans know that there is one incomplete sonnet of only 13 lines (Sonnet 126), counterbalanced numerically by one unrevised sonnet of 15 lines (Sonnet 99), so yes, still 2156 total.

    5. Unless you count South Boston, sonnets have been rendered in twelve different languages that we can recall: Spanish, French, German, Russian, Czechoslovakian, Italian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Italian, Latin, Farsi and Yiddish.

    6. The surprise proposal was rendered by Matthew Konieczka, class of 2001, and fortunately his bride said yes or we might have had to end the festival right then and there. Matthew got down on one knee and eloquently made his petition with Sonnet 109, which begins "O never say that I was false of heart." Matt came back to teach at Saint Anselm for a few years and is now living in Boston and teaching at Newbury College. Yes, he and his wife are still married.

    7. Renaissance Drama Scholar, Professor Keith Botelho (SAC ‘96) has successfully fashioned his version of the festival where he teaches at Kennesaw State University in Georgia. Keith is married to Denise (Warner) Bothelo, ‘98 and they are raising southern-speaking Shakespeareans.

    8. The Duke's Dawgs: This troupe of comedic excess, chronic miscues and un-memorized lines has been anchored by the trio of Gary Bouchard (English), Royce Burney (Physical Plant) and Bob Shea (Director of the Dana Center). Other performers over the years have included Professors Ann Norton, Landis Magnuson and Sherry Shepler; Philip Bouchard, Jason Evans, Lizzie Cronin, Rebecca Teevan, Charlie Bondhus and Byrne Cronin who depicted Pink Floyd's WALL in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

    9. We recall fifteen in total. Some perennial participants have included The Villa Augustina, Holy Family Academy, and Trinity High School. It is always gratifying when alumni bring back their classes from the schools where they are teaching. We remember fondly the oratory skills of the students from the Frederick Douglass charter school in Boston and the day in 2010 that Principal Charlie Grossman (SAC '91) brought his students from Little Harbor School in Portsmouth, N.H.

    10. Nobody has ever read their sonnet from the Red Arrow, but we have had call ins from all of those other locations.

    11. The youngest reader was Aidan Donais, son of Professor Mary Kate Donais who made his first appearance last year at the age of 6 as a kindergartner. His brother Garrett had done his first at 7 and the two, along with their mom, are now festival regulars.

    12. That would be Tracy Manforte-Sweet in 2002. Tracy was the Assistant VP for Director of Public Relations and was deploying her skills as a former Division I Gymnast at UNH. The feat was captured on film by the producers of Chronicle (See the link to the 2002 feature of the festival).

    13. The answer should be the obvious 25, but in the early years of the festival we saved money by having buttons printed to last two years. We only started putting the year on them in 1995. There have been 22 buttons altogether, all unique student designs. How many do you have?

    14. The cardboard Shakespeare that has been hoisted up rain gutters and light poles to preside over the annual festival was originally the property of the Shell Gas station on Brown Avenue in Manchester (could we make this up?). He was being used to promote a trivia contest that won people gas discounts. Professor Bouchard asked if he could have the card-bard when the contest was over. Others inquired, but his was the first name on the list. He has been creeping out students in Prof. Bouchard's office ever since.

    15. We have no idea, probably a lot with plenty of sugar and butter included. Don't you know that a good trivia quiz, just like a sonnet, should end at fourteen!