New York rapper’s way with Shakespeare’s words

Devon Glover, aka The Sonnet Man, reciting Shakespeare’s sonnets in Stratford. Photo: Lucy Ford (S44/4/16/4)

NEW York rapper Devon Glover, aka the Sonnet Man, recited all 154 of Shakespeare’s sonnets back-to-back on Sunday. 24th, rounding off the weekend and kicking off the Stratford-upon-Avon Literary Festival.

Devon initially intended to set a world record as the first person to complete the feat, but a mix-up over the criteria meant that was not possible.

The maths and English teacher did, however, go ahead with his performance in the shadows of the Birthplace, in Henley Street, finishing his ambitious sonnet-athon in three hours, 35 minutes and 24 seconds.

Devon proved a popular attraction in his gazebo throughout the morning, even though it was a wet and windy day.

He also had to contend with technical problems that meant he only had a three-beat backing track to recite the Bard’s words to.

“The weather wasn’t great and I had computer problems, but the people of Stratford kept me going,” he told the Herald.

“I normally mould a different beat to each sonnet, but the problems I had meant that I only had three beats to fit all 154 sonnets in, but it still worked, it tripped me up a few times, and I had to restart a few, but it was fun to do, I had a great time.”

Devon teaches maths and English in his native Brooklyn — a job that inspired him to make Shakespeare more understandable to people in New York, many of whom, he said, have no natural affinity to the man considered the greatest writer who ever lived.

And has set out to do that, putting not just his sonnets, but his plays to hip-hop music — a more familiar language on the streets of the ‘Big Apple’.

“I was asked to teach the book of Othello to students and I noted the rhyme and rhythm in Shakespeare’s words, so I put it to hip-hop to keep the kids’ interest.

“There is a lot of disinterest in Shakespeare where I come from, many kids think knowledge of it is unattainable, but I found you can keep their interest better in 14 lines rather than 400 pages, in a way they understand.”

We might be seeing a bit more of the Sonnet Man here in Stratford; he is currently awaiting the outcome of his application to complete a Masters in Shakespeare Studies at the Shakespeare Institute.

We also asked The Sonnet Man what Shakespeare meant to him…

“In one word, Shakespeare means ‘passion.’ His wordplay and use of literary devices has a special connection to the world of hip-hop.

“Although our lives are centuries apart, I’ve still been able to find a connection between his works and my life. However, it was his passion to become a playwright that connects to me the most. His success didn’t happen overnight, instead, he invested in himself. Even though his plays were initially rejected at first, he never let any transgressions stop his drive.

“Without Hamlet, there would be no Lion King. Without Romeo and Juliet, there would be no West Side Story (among other rom-coms).

“Shakespeare’s passion inspired me to never give up on my talent and goals. I thank the Bard for passing that trait down to me a trait that I try to pass down to my students while teaching the Bards of the future. William has taught me to #KeepWriting.”

See full coverage of the Shakespeare 400 weekend in our special 16-page pullout, FREE inside this week’s Stratford-upon-Avon Herald.