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Faculty experts, resources available for coverage of Shakespeare's 450th birthday

Thursday, April 17, 2014

LAWRENCE — Wednesday, April 23, will mark the 450th anniversary of the date scholars commonly attribute to William Shakespeare’s birth.

The University of Kansas has experts in multiple disciplines who can speak about the English poet, playwright and actor, who is generally regarded as the greatest writer in the English language.

Jonathan Lamb, assistant professor of English, can talk about Shakespeare's biography, plays and poems, as well as his reputation throughout history and how his plays came to be seen as central to Western culture.

Lamb is currently investigating the way Shakespeare responded to and shaped the early modern English literary marketplace through the “thick” formal features of his works. He argues that Shakespeare wrote in constant interchange with other writers, writings, trends and ideas. He said Shakespeare still matters 450 years later because one of the chief qualities of his writing is his capacity to think about the world and enter into a dialogue with it.

“If critical engagement with the world is one of the hallmarks for a citizen, then Shakespeare is a must-read for any citizenry,” Lamb said. “We do not have to believe that Shakespeare is the world’s greatest writer — though I think he is — to accept that he epitomizes just the sort of critical engagement that belongs in a society such as ours.”

Geraldo Sousa, professor of English, is available to talk about interpretations of Shakespeare’s plays and poetry and Shakespeare's significance today. Sousa has written books “Shakespeare's Cross-Cultural Encounters” and “At Home in Shakespeare’s Tragedies.” He published two articles earlier this year, “Cookery and Witchcraft in Shakespeare's 'Macbeth'" and "The Local/Global Nexus in Shakespeare's 'The Merchant of Venice,'" which examines how Shakespeare addressed issues surrounding immigration. Sousa in his research has detailed the representation of houses and domestic life related to cross-cultural encounters in Shakespeare's writings.

Sousa said Shakespeare's significance is evident because historical figures have incorporated ideas from his writings, and today many movie and other cultural adaptations originated with him.

"It's not only our cultural heritage but it also has become part of our lives. You look for a philosophy of life, and people found it repeatedly, including the Founding Fathers, Abraham Lincoln and others through Shakespeare," Sousa said. "Cultural heritage is dead if it's not rediscovered by each generation and if it's not incorporated into our lives."

Sousa is currently working on a project related to Shakespeare and social justice as well as a book on the city of London in Shakespeare’s time.

David Bergeron, professor emeritus of English, is available to speak about historical aspects of Shakespeare's life, including his connections to the British Royal Family of King James, as detailed in his 1985 book "Shakespeare's Romances and the Royal Family." Bergeron's current project focuses on the events of 1613 when Shakespeare is presumably retired from the stage. Other events that year included Shakespeare buying property in London for the first time in his life and the Globe Theatre burning. Bergeron is also editing an edition of "The Winter's Tale" as part of the new text of Shakespeare's plays for a third edition of the Norton Shakespeare, a project overseen by well-known Shakespearean scholar Gordon McMullan.

To arrange an interview with Lamb, Sousa or Bergeron, contact George Diepenbrock, 785-864-8853, gdiepenbrock@ku.edu.

Paul Meier, a professor of theatre and voice specialist, is author of "Voicing Shakespeare," a multimedia instructional ebook that teaches actors to perform the Bard’s work with confidence, clarity and power.

In 2010, he directed one of the few Shakespeare productions performed entirely in the English dialect of Shakespeare’s time. The KU production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was performed in the original pronunciation, restoring rhymes and jokes that had been lost as the English language evolved in the past 400 years. The original pronunciation returns Shakespeare's work from the often-used refined dialect of the Victorian era to the more earthy pronunciations that would have been heard in Shakespeare's time. That earthy pronunciation is appropriate, Meier said, for work that connects so well with the human experience.

"His work was accessible and real. It was funny, sexy and violent. We love sexy and violent. And he gave us plenty of it," Meier said.

Meier has directed more than 20 Shakespeare works. As part of the BBC Drama Repertory Company, Meier preformed in more than a dozen Shakespeare productions, working alongside British Theatre greats such as Richard Burton, Derek Jacobi and Paul Scofield.

To arrange an interview with Meier, contact Christine Metz Howard, 785-864-8852, cmetzhoward@ku.edu.

KU Libraries are home to extensive holdings relating to Shakespeare’s work. In addition to traditional copies of the Bard’s plays, the libraries hold a partial first folio dating to 1623 containing the plays “King Lear,” “Othello” and “Anthony and Cleopatra.” They hold a second folio, dated 1632, and various later printings including a miniature 20th century edition of Shakespeare’s complete works and a “fine press” edition of “Hamlet.”

The libraries also hold papers from William Poel, a late 19th and early 20th century English actor and theater manager dedicated to reviving stage conventions of Elizabethan theater, and papers of Charlton Hinman, who taught at KU and produced a famous study of the printing and proofing of Shakespeare’s first folio. The latter also developed the “Hinman Collator,” an optical collator that assisted in identifying textual differences in seemingly identical copies of a same edition.

The Music and Dance Library holds a large number of settings of Shakespeare’s works, including full operas and individual songs based on his work.

For more information on KU Libraries and Shakespeare, contact Mike Krings, 785-864-8860, mkrings@ku.edu.