‘The Sonnet Man: Hip Hop Shakespeare Fusion’
Devon Glover’s Interactive and Educative Performance, by Cathleen McKague
‘On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me…a Shakespearean rapper from NYC?’ Such was the holiday treat enjoyed by students, staff, graduates, and guests at The Shakespeare Institute’s most recent Christmas party, held in the school’s Hall in Stratford-Upon-Avon on Thursday 12 December, 2013. We were delighted to welcome Devon Glover, ‘The Sonnet Man’, a musical and spoken word performer from New York City who presented his ‘Hip Hop Shakespeare Fusion’ as a part of the evening’s entertainment. Glover’s show, conceived and produced by Broadway playwright Arje Shaw and in association with Jones Street productions, combines a selection of Shakespeare’s sonnets in their original form with music and rap ‘interpretations’ of the lyrics.
Though based in New York, Glover has taken his production to various elementary and middle schools, drama clubs, and colleges and universities (among other venues) across several continents. He has featured his act on The Today Show in the USA and will be performing at the prestigious Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario, Canada from 10-12 July 2014. Glover’s website maintains that his production aims are to introduce students and youths to classical literature—namely, Shakespeare’s sonnets, both those found within his plays and those taken from his collection of what Francis Meres deems his ‘sugred Sonnets’, first published in 1609—using methods that will increase creativity and enthusiasm, while also establishing foundations for an ‘appreciation of the arts’.[i]
If his performance on the 12th of December was any indication, Glover is more than capable of meeting these aims. His fresh, engaging perspective on the sonnets and his inclusion of audience members into the production seem potent tools for capturing the hearts and minds of young learners. In using hip hop and r & b to gloss what might at first seem difficult material, Glover immediately makes Shakespeare easily understandable and culturally relevant to today’s youth…and also enjoyable for those of us who are adults! Personally, I would use and recommend his CD without hesitation as a component of poetry units in secondary and later elementary classrooms.
More information on ‘The Sonnet Man’ can be found at the following website:
[i] Francis Meres, Palladis Tamia. Wits Treasvry Being the Second part of Wits Common wealth. By Francis Meres Maister of Artes of both Vniuersities. Viuitur ingenio, cætera mortis erunt (London: Cuthbert Burbie, 1598) Early English Books Online, web, 12 January 2014, Oo1v; The Sonnet Man, Jones Street Productions, n.d., web, 12 January 2014.