For a guy who is coming up on the 400th anniversary of his death, William Shakespeare is pretty “hot,” to borrow a bit of Hollywood terminology.
And one of the hot spots for the world’s most famed playwright is IUPUI, home of The New Oxford Shakespeare and Hoosier Bard Productions, two of the elements that are putting this campus in the Shakespearean spotlight.
It seems ironic that four centuries after he lived, Shakespeare’s life and work remain a bit shrouded in mystery. He is credited for some of history’s greatest plays, yet manuscripts that he wrote or co-wrote continue to pop up as written by “unknown” or “anonymous.” The writing has to be validated by databases of the writing style, words and phrases he was known to use—details that IU School of Liberal Arts professor Terri Bourus said are available now because of new linguistic databases containing his known (and unknown) works.
One major center for this kind of study is The New Oxford Shakespeare project, headed by Bourus. The project, along with performances produced by Hoosier Bard, is giving new life to the bard’s most problematic plays.
For Bourus, a passionate Shakespeare scholar, it’s a labor of love. She is a rarity in Shakespearean circles: English drama professor, equity actor and stage director, all while serving as one of three general editors of The New Oxford Shakespeare Complete Works.
To IU officials, Bourus was the obvious pick for the project and the theatrical company. For her, though, it was a bit more intimidating.
“I wasn’t sure I was quite prepared for a project of this scale,” Bourus said. “Dean (Bill) Blomquist of the School of Liberal Arts felt this was something worth having, something that would increase the visibility of the English Department, the school and the university. With the level of textual and performance scholarship that the NOS team brings to the university, it’s a great way to bring students interested in studying Shakespeare, to Indianapolis and to IUPUI.”
It turns out he was right, Bourus added. The editing project and the theatrical production unit are evidence, along with a growing student Shakespeare Club and strong ties to Indianapolis-based performers.
Bourus considers the editing work and stage productions to be two parts of the same experiment. “The laboratory is key to what we do,” she said. “We performance-test our hypotheses as editors, focusing on difficult textual cruxes. How does an editor decide what and how these plays can best be presented? On stage, an actor becomes part of the experiment—until you put these words in the mouths of actors on a stage, you don’t know exactly how they will be perceived.”
A new book titled “The Creation and Re-creation of Cardenio: Performing Shakespeare, Transforming Cervantes” (Macmillan) was co-edited and features a chapter by Bourus on the lost play "The History of Cardenio,” which was presented as part of the project. “This kind of research is key to the public perception of the campus and its commitment to Shakespeare,” she said. “Publication of the edition will be a huge coup for IUPUI, for The New Oxford Shakespeare and for Hoosier Bard Productions.”
Hoosier Bard’s next play, “Arden of Faversham,” which attribution scholars now believe was partly written by a young Shakespeare, is based on a true story of a wife murdering her older husband in order to be with a young lover. The play will run April 2 to 12, 2014, months before the Royal Shakespeare Company stages it as part of its 2014 season in Stratford-upon-Avon, England.