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Shakespearean Festival

Click here to see a large photo of the Shakespeare Tercentenary Pageant

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Shakespearean Parade
Parade heads down Main Street

One of the major events in the early life of what-is-now James Madison University was a two-day Shakespearean Festival in 1916, celebrating the 300th anniversary of William Shakespeare's death.

Held on May 25-26, the huge festival's participants included students from the State Normal School and Industrial School for Women, Harrisonburg residents and students from both Harrisonburg and Broadway public schools. An article in the Daily News-Record the day before the festival invited local residents to attend the free festival.

The festival's itinerary included dances, sports, plays, historical costume restorations, an Elizabethan tea and an Elizabethan pageant. The performances, except the pageant, were given by participants from Rockingham County public schools.

Shakespearean Parade
The pageant makes its way around Court Square in Harrisonburg

The Elizabethan tea was sponsored by the Normal School students in the Household Arts Department. They wore Elizabethan costumes made by students in the Sewing Department.

More than 150 guests came for English tea in the Science Hall (now Maury Hall). Sixteenth-century delicacies were served, including hot spiced cider, shortbread, nut honey cake, gingerbread, plum pudding and fruitcake.

The room was decorated to create an Elizabethan atmosphere with pictures of Shakespeare's home, the first theater in London and the Avon River, as well as quotations from the bard's work.

The highlight of the festival was the Elizabethan pageant, directed by Normal School professor Ruth Hudson, who would later advise and direct the Normal School's theater club, the Stratford Players, from 1921 to 1935. The pageant started at 5 p.m. from the Normal School and proceeded downtown, with almost 700 participants in authentic costume taking part in a mile-and-a-half parade down Main Street.

President Burruss
President Burruss was a hearld in the
Shakespearean Pageant.

Heralds and marshals, including Normal School president Julian A. Burruss as a herald, led the procession. They were followed by “Queen Elizabeth,” who was portrayed by Mrs. Saylor Myers, wife of a Harrisonburg banker. The queen was accompanied by her “court.”

Students from the Harrisonburg Main Street School attended the queen in the costumes of shepherdesses, fairies, town children, villagers and Robin Hood. “William Shakespeare,” portrayed by Harrisonburg druggist, A.K. Fletcher, followed the queen's court.

Students from schools in Broadway and the Normal School's Lee, Lanier, and Stratford Societies (three literary clubs) dressed in the costumes of characters from Shakespeare's plays such as Julius Caesar, As You Like It, Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night's Dream.

More than 3,000 people turned out to watch the pageant. After the procession wended its way to Court Square in downtown Harrisonburg, Mayor John H. Downing presented the keys of the city to “Queen Elizabeth.”

On Friday, the second day of the festival, there were more games, sports, and music. Scenes from Shakespeare's plays were presented on an outdoor stage located behind Science (Maury) Hall.

-- Ashley Atkins