English Prof Leads Shakespeare Reading Group


Las Vegas, N.M – An upcoming Shakespeare reading group at Highlands University will explore works like Hamlet while marking the 400-year anniversary of the English playwright’s death.

“A Comedy, A Tragedy and an Adaptation: A Shakespeare Reading and Discussion Group” will be led by Highlands University English professor and Shakespeare scholar Donna Woodford-Gormley.

“We begin with Twelfth Night, which is often seen as the last of Shakespeare’s festive comedies,” Woodford-Gormley said. “The play employs some of the common traditions of Shakespeare’s comedies like mistaken identity – in this case with the twins Viola and Sebastian – and love triangles.”

Woodford-Gormley said the tragedy Hamlet, set in the Kingdom of Denmark, is considered Shakespeare’s best known play through the centuries.

Hamlet continues to strike a cord with people because of its timeless themes of loss, betrayal, suffering and madness. Hamlet debates whether he should pursue revenge for his father’s death and questions his own sanity,” Woodford-Gormley said.

The free book discussions begin at 6 p.m. in Donnelly Library, 802 National Ave., on these dates:

  • Feb. 4 – Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
  • March 3 – Hamlet by William Shakespeare
  • April 7 – Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard

Woodford-Gormley said Shakespeare’s plays always generate good discussions.

“What makes Shakespeare still so compelling is that while he wrote more than 400 years ago – long before Sigmund Freud – Shakespeare understood human psychology and how people think and feel. My students continue to find characters they can identify with in Shakespeare’s work,” Woodford-Gormley said.

She said Shakespeare wrote both Twelfth Night and Hamlet in approximately 1601, with the plays sharing common subjects that the playwright wrestles with.

“I often teach Twelfth Night and Hamlet together because while one is a comedy and the other a tragedy, they share many similar issues like death and how we remember a loved one, when we can trust someone or when they are misleading us, treachery that turns sinister, and madness,” Woodford-Gormley said.

She said Stoppard’s adaptation Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead retells the story of Hamlet from the point of view of two insignificant characters in the original play.

“This Hamlet adaptation leads to new insight into the original play because you see what’s happening from a different point of view. It blends the genres of comedy and tragedy because it has elements of both,” Woodford-Gormley said.

April Kent, a Donnelly librarian and head of public services, coordinates the library’s reading groups.

“The reading groups are informal, and I encourage people to join the discussion whenever they can,” Kent said. “The plays are available at Donnelly, and we offer free library cards to area residents.”

For more information, contact Kent at 505-454-3139, ajkent@nmhu.edu, or visit the library.

Woodford-Gormley, who chairs the Department of English at Highlands, is widely published including her 2004 book, Understanding King Lear: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources and Historical Documents.

She is the only Shakespeare scholar researching Shakespeare in Cuba. Woodford-Gormley received a National Endowment for the Humanities grant to help complete her upcoming book, Caliban’s Books: Shakespeare in Cuba. One of the chapters focuses on Hamlet.

Woodford-Gormley is a frequent presenter to scholarly organizations such as the Shakespeare Association of America and the International Congress of Medieval Studies.