Much Ado about Something

By Curtis Harris

On Thursday, June 3, President Lincoln’s Cottage held an engaging public program: Lincoln’s Shakespeare. The event was led by Shakespeare in film scholar Michael Anderegg’s sterling lecture exploring President Lincoln’s connection with Shakespeare’s works.   Anderegg’s presentation received stellar assistance from actress Audra Polk. A graduate of the Shakespeare Theatre Company Academy for Classical Acting at George Washington University, Polk delivered alternately passionate, humorous, and introspective recitations of scenes from works such as Richard III and Macbeth.

Much like Macbeth, the event opened dramatically with much thunder and lightning as a storm passed over the Cottage. Anderegg revealed Lincoln as someone whose enthusiasm with the works of Shakespeare began when Lincoln was a young child and grew throughout his lifetime. Arriving in Washington, DC, Lincoln’s presence at theatrical performances increased considerably from his days in Illinois. Although Lincoln preferred tragedies, he could be seen at any number of plays as he attempted to escape the trials and demands of the Civil War for a short while. His frequent attendance eventually led to a correspondence with prominent actor James Hackett, the only written evidence from Lincoln himself about his love for Shakespeare.

In spite of his recurrent visits to the theatre, Lincoln maintained a distinct vision and image of Shakespeare. It appealed to his own grief and sorrow, but also disposed the President to serenade guests and visitors with his favorite passages as a way of entertaining them.

Thanks to the wonderful presentation by Anderegg and Polk, the program’s audience, much like visitors to the cottage 150 years ago, caught a glimpse of the adoration that the President held for the works of Shakespeare.

For more information on public programs at President Lincoln’s Cottage, visit:

Mr. Harris is a Historical Interpreter at President Lincoln’s Cottage.
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