Actor Patrick Stewart gives Shakespearean shout out to King's professor

Shakespearean scholar and King's University College professor Paul Werstine received a shout out from Patrick Stewart, the actor known for his role as Starfleet Capt. Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation, during his daily Shakespearean sonnet reading.

Stewart has been reading Shakespearean sonnets during the pandemic from a book edited by the London professor

During the pandemic, the actor has been reading Shakesperean sonnets from a book edited by King's University College Professor Paul Werstine. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

It's not every day that a Londoner gets a shout out from renowned actor Patrick Stewart.

Last week, Shakespearean scholar and King's University College professor Paul Werstine received just that from the 79-year-old actor, known for his role as Starfleet Capt. Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek.

For almost a month now, the actor has been reading Shakespearean sonnets from the comfort of his home and positing them on his social media accounts in an effort to help the masses pass some time while they hunker down and curb the spread of COVID-19.

The sonnets are being read from a print edition produced by the Folger Shakespeare Library and edited by Barbara A. Mowat and King's University College professor Paul Werstine.

Just a few weeks into what Stewart now calls A Sonnet A Day, he acknowledged the two editors by name who provide readers with some context and notes for each sonnet.

"I was tickled by his doing that," Werstine said, adding that it reminded him of his co-editor, Mowat, who passed away three years ago. 

Earlier this month, the actor told CBC q host Tom Power that the daily sonnet reading started after he recited one to his wife, singer-songwriter Sunny Ozell.

Ozell enjoyed it so much that she decided to record and post it online, Stewart said. After the positive response it received, Stewart decided to make it a daily affair. 

"It suddenly occurred to me that there was this little saying that my mother used to chant when I was a child: An apple a day keeps the doctor away," he told Power. 

"I thought, well, what if I did this thing where I said: a sonnet a day keeps the doctor away?" he said. "It's silly, and it's perhaps a little embarrassing … [but] I've been enjoying it very much."

And so have Stewart's followers, as some of the actors posts have garnered more than 57,000 likes on Twitter. 

But what makes the sonnets so popular during the pandemic?

"They're really a pleasure in and of themselves to listen to and to read," Werstine said.

The compilation of sonnets, which were first published in a quarto volume in 1609, are an artistic "tour de force,"  Werstine said, adding that the form of writing is very restrictive making it a challenge to simply write one, let alone 154 as Shakespeare did.

"Shakespeare has to be able to say what he wants to say within the confines of this structure in which every other line has to rhyme with each other for the first twelve lines and then he must wind it up in a couplet," he explained.

When an art work of this calibre is read by a figure known by so many like Stewart, it can create a comforting experience, Werstine noted.

"There's a certain encouragement and raising of the spirit just to listen to someone such as Sir Patrick — who reads them in this wonderful voice of his —  just bring this off [the pages] over and over again."

Additionally, most of the sonnets present a difficulty within the first few lines which get resolved by the time the reader reaches the couplet, giving people a resolution to look forward to each time. 

"I think it's wonderful that Sir Patrick is using this new medium that attracts so much attention to the sonnets and to Shakespeare," Werstine said. "That's how Shakespeare stays alive for us because people keep on finding new ways of presenting him."

With files from Tom Power