School Desk

The (birth)day’s the thing


Friends, Romans, Riverdale Country School men (and women) — some of these were among the attendees at an April 23 celebration fit for a king (though perhaps not grandiose enough for King Lear) commemorating Shakespeare’s 450th birthday.

A bit of Stratford-upon-Avon came to Riverdale Country School’s (RCS) green campus as students donned party hats and enjoyed a buffet. Phrases like “mugwormed maggot,” “beetleheaded barnacle” and “warp-neck scurvy bellied toad” filled the air while a group of eager boys partook of a noisy Shakespearean insult contest.

The participants strung together insults by using the three-column table in a “Shakespeare Insult Kit” that teachers handed out. 

“My favorite was ‘a puny, ill-nurtured maggot pie,’” said Benjamin Kaufman, 13. “It just felt like it had more power and effect than most of the other insults.”  

Max Horne, also 13, preferred “burly-boned, scurvy-valiant step-dame.” 

“It sounded the most like jibberish,” he said. 

Moderator and English department chairman Ron Murison declined to pick  a winner, but the students weren’t in it for a prize during the no-holds-barred competition, anyway.

“I liked the exhilarating tension of insulting each other,” said Benjamin. 

“It’s kind of like learning a new language, except you already know some of the words,” said Ian Luskin, 12, who added that he and his classmates read Julius Caesar a few months ago. 

Earlier in the day, students enjoyed a faculty performance of scenes from plays including A Midsummer Night’s Dream and a lecture about whether or not Shakespeare really authored the plays attributed to him.

In the props department, a ninth-grade class created replicas of the fateful handkerchief Desdemona received from Othello in the eponymous play. The avid readers strove for accuracy down to the finest details, including a strawberry pattern Shakespeare described.

“It was very funny to see teachers I see on campus out and being hilarious on stage,” said  Brayan Lozano, 15. 

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