“This is going to fail so spectacularly”

– Amelie Poon : a self proclaimed professional pessimist in Year 11 Admittedly, she was not the only one with reservations. Ellie Peng, another Year 11 student, thought the bid was “highly ambitious” and “probably impossible”. Hesitation was strife in this particular year group; perhaps due to the imminence of their Very Important Exams.

Well, it looks like it is time for all the skeptics and naysayers to swallow their words, because very soon, Henrietta Barnett School will officially be the World Record holders for the most people simultaneously reciting Shakespearean passages, following their successful attempt on Tuesday 23rd April, which just so happens to be the Bard’s birthday.

Over 300 pupils participated in this “exciting opportunity”, most of them from Key Stage 3. A few brave Sixth Formers did also make time to learn the four extracts, despite their already existing workload. At 1:30 pm, the nervous rows of children began to file onto the netball courts, which had been already set up with a makeshift podium and a microphone. These were installed for the Head of the English Department, Ms. Samantha Kay, who was the principal coordinator for the event.

As a unit, the mass of school girls who were complete with paper ruffs were rather impressive, especially when they began to perform the renowned monologue from one of Shakespeare’s most frequently performed plays - As You Like It : “All the world’s a stage”. The speech likens the world to a stage and life to play as it catalogues the seven components of a man’s existence – the infant, the school boy, the lover, the soldier, the justice, the pantalone and death itself.

This was followed by Lady Macbeth’s soliloquy from Macbeth, in which the character is contemplating her plan to seize the throne through deceit and immoral means. This speech is intriguing, especially to the modern reader, as it cements Lady Macbeth as the driving force in the relationship. She is shown to be ruthless, cold and calculating, which is often juxtaposed with Macbeth’s weakness and his tendency to waver and worry. Although she is decidedly the villain of the play, it seemed like her raw ambition and tenacity had struck a chord with the teenagers, who perhaps identified her as a fellow female beacon of strength as they delivered her monologue with particular gusto. Next came the romantic duologue from Romeo and Juliet, taken from the scene where the ‘star crossd’ lovers meet for the same time. This extract was particularly challenging as the sentences resembled tongue twisters, with heavy wordplay and quick, snappy delivery. However, it was no match for the determined girls, who ploughed on through it unwaveringly.

Finally, the famous “To be or not to be” monologue from Hamlet, in which we see the protagonist lamenting his own miserable existence. But the question really is : to set or not to set a Guinness World Record? To which the answer is : most definitely! This extract is the longest one by far, with 262 words and is indisputably the most difficult “because of how long and wordy it is”. Ever since Hamlet was written in 1599, it has remained a steady favourite with the public, attracting them with all the things that makes a story really enticing : unrequited love, betrayal, murder and vengeance. It seems that Shakespeare’s formula for successful writing was indeed well imagined, as it has endured for centuries - his tropes are still very much recognisable in modern day drama.

Nisha Patel, a Year 9 student who took part in the attempt, also ran the Instagram account (@hbs.world.record) chronicling the process of learning the extracts “by rote”. The account is a truly wondrous thing of memes and fanart. Her feelings on the gigantic achievement are pretty clear. “It’s pretty cool” she decides, nodding her head. That belief is well represented throughout the Henrietta Barnett community. “It’s really nice to see everyone united” said Da-Hyun Ham, sitting on the grass overlooking the venue of the big event. The students that were unable to participate, sadly, all came to support the valiant reciters and cheered them on heartily.

This was an incredible moment of pride for the school, who may now add a Guinness World Record to their list of successes.