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Rangoon students gather to celebrate Shakespeare

English majors from four universities in Rangoon gathered on 16 August 2016 to celebrate the literary legacy of William Shakespeare. (Photo: Libby Hogan)

Four hundred years after his death, the work of William Shakespeare continues to inspire actors and audiences around the world — mostly recently at Rangoon University, where students staged performances on Tuesday to commemorate the death in 1616 of Britain’s greatest playwright.

As part of a “Shakespeare Lives” event to honour the Bard’s legacy, English majors at Burma’s oldest university performed some of their favourite scenes from his plays and posed for selfies with cards that included quotes and the hashtag #playyourpart. Also featured at the event were an art exhibition, film screenings and lectures.

“His plays remain highly popular and are reinterpreted in diverse cultures and political contexts throughout the world,” said retired English professor U Thi Ha, explaining Shakespeare’s enduring appeal in Burma.

“Even in my teenage years I came across movie versions of ‘Romeo and Juliet’,” the former Rangoon University professor added.

Shakespeare’s classic tale of star-crossed lovers still has many fans in Burma today, including one who took to the stage on Tuesday to perform as one of the three witches in “Macbeth”.

Explaining why “Romeo and Juliet” was her favourite Shakespeare play, 20-year-old Thri Phyo Phyo said, “I love a love story. When I read this story, I can feel I’m like a Juliet. Real love can never die!”

Another English student from the University of West Yangon said that although she found the language challenging, she was happy to take part in a performance of Shakespeare’s work.

“Shakespeare’s language is not very familiar with us because [it is] not simple, but it is really good to learn in English,” said 21-year-old Khin Yadanar Khaing Khant.

The event was organized by the British Council and brought together English students from four different Rangoon-based universities.

Delivering the opening speech at the event, Sein Sein Myint, the former head of the English department at Dagon University, said that Shakespeare’s themes of vaulting ambition and tragedy still hold true for contemporary society.

Inviting Burmese students to find their own interpretations of Shakespeare’s plays, she encouraged them to “apply his keenness of mind” to their understanding of the human condition, which involves “real emotions and conflicts.”