A Creative and Subversive Act
By Rebecca Howard
Tulsa City-County Library
What is it about Shakespeare’s works that continue to inspire and captivate us? I recently attended a National Theater Live broadcast of the Chichester Festival Theatre’s production of King Lear staring Ian McKellen. In an interview airing before the broadcast, McKellen explained how every performance is different because “the audience writes the play.”
I love this quote for so many reasons, but mostly because of what it says about our human desire to hear, experience, and tell stories. From a young age, we can recite the familiar cadence of “once upon a time,” as if it were invocation. Far from being a passive hobby, reading is a creative and, at times, subversive act. Just as the audience writes the play, the reader writes the story. Shakespeare’s works persist because they invite us to consider what it means to be human—to be foolish, arrogant, loyal, or bereft. Like all great works of literature, they invite us to bring our ownstories into THE story.
As a public librarian, I have the pleasure and honor to connect people to stories. Sometimes these stories serve as entertainment or escape. Sometimes they are lifelines. I recently met a young woman who expressed it perfectly, “I need to understand myself, so I thought I should read some books.” We searched the catalog and the stacks together to find the right books for the right time in her life. I simply provided introductions. The conversation is hers to continue.