IUPUI's New Oxford Shakespeare

Gary Taylor and Terri Bourus of IUPUI's New Oxford Shakespeare project. Photo by Mark Lee.

"We're sort of like performance

artists, in a way," says Terri Bourus, standing on

the stage of a theater-in-the-making on the campus of IUPUI. Bourus is a member of Actors Equity, but that's not

necessarily the performance art she's talking about. She is also a lead editor

of Oxford University Press' New Oxford Shakespeare, an undertaking based, in

part, at IUPUI. It's that project, and the combination of scholarship and

performance it encourages, that has Bourus looking

forward and beyond to August, when the new 260-seat IUPUI theater will open.

Bourus is part of an international team of

scholars, working under the aegis of England's Oxford University Press. Their

task is to bring out a new, complete edition of Shakespeare in 2016, coinciding

with the 400th anniversary of the Bard's death.

At IUPUI, Bourus

heads a staff of five editors who are working on the modern spelling and

digital editions of Shakespeare's works. This will be the latest Oxford

University Press edition of Shakespeare since 1986. It also represents the

continuing evolution of Shakespearean scholarship.

Bourus says that, from about the 1640s to

1970, Shakespeare was "taken over by academics" and that "the scholars and

theater practitioners did not work together, they did not respect each other,

they just didn't blend in any meaningful way."

Shakespeare became part of English

literature, along with a host of other great writers like Milton, George Eliot,

Keats and Charles Dickens. This was fine, as far as it went, but it skewed the

emphasis toward reading rather than performing. This was a problem, since so

much of Shakespeare's works were written for the stage.

"It's literature," says Bourus, "but not literature in the form of a novel. It's

literature in the form of plays. Plays are performances. Play scripts are not

novels. And yet they both tell stories. One tells stories when a reader engages

with a text; the other tells stories when an audience engages with performers."

A multimedia Shakespeare

In the 1970s, Oxford University

Press and editor Stanley Wells began championing the idea of Shakespeare as a

dramatic author. "They gathered together a team of scholars interested in

performance art," says Bourus. The result was the

1986 Oxford Shakespeare, which, says Bourus, "was the

first edition of Shakespeare's plays to be examined and edited through the lens

of performance."

Editing through that lens creates a

new perspective, says Bourus, one that "shifts

between prose and poetry." There are also special challenges: "There are stage

directions, needs of performers; with very old texts we have archaic words that

need to be footnoted and examined."

For example, there are three extant

versions of Shakespeare's Hamlet. In one version, Prince Hamlet refers to "too,

too solid flesh;" in another, to "too, too sallied flesh:" and, finally, to

"too, too sullied flesh."

"What," asks Bourus,

"did Shakespeare mean? We can't ask him. There's no way to get to it and yet,

theatrically, it's going to be performed. So what is the best way to perform

this? How do you remain true to the text when you have no manuscripts, you have

no notes. [Shakespeare] left us nothing."

The editing challenge doesn't end

with rendering what constitutes a complete text. It also involves offering a text

compatible with new ways of reading. Computers, social networking, cell phones

and eBooks have all made an impact on how we read and Oxford Press is intent on

not creating another edition of Shakespeare aimed mainly at bookshelves. "We

want to create a multimedia Shakespeare for the 21st century," says Bourus.

The new Shakespeare edition will

come with performance notes, stage directions and copious footnotes. It will

consist of a modern spelling edition, a two-volume old spelling edition, a

textual companion, and a digital edition, potentially[still in the works]including music

and performance clips.

"We've got the very first,

multi-platform, multi-formatted edition of Shakespeare, ever," says Bourus.

The goal, according to Bourus, is to "keep the performance of Shakespeare

contemporary because, while Shakespeare's a universal artist and, in that way,

timeless, every so-called universal work has to be re-proven for each


Going global

This is where Bourus' acting

background comes into play. The project's senior general editor, Gary Taylor,

from Florida State University, wanted a collaborator who was both a scholar (Bourus' PhD work concerned Hamlet as a performance text)

and an experienced performer.

Bourus was teaching at Indiana University's

Kokomo campus. She agreed to be part of the Shakespeare team when IU's president, Michael McRobbie,

agreed to support the project, ultimately locating it in Indianapolis. "IUPUI

brought me here with the intent of making meaningful connections between IUPUI

and the Indianapolis arts community, with an eye toward building a theater on

campus," says Bourus.

For IUPUI, the Shakespeare project

represented an opportunity to create an on-campus theater presence similar to

the visual arts and design presence brought by the relocation of the Herron

School of Art and Design from its previous Old Northside

neighborhood on 16th St.

The project has reached out to the

city at large through the creation of Hoosier Bard Productions, a partnership

with IndyFringe that recently presented its first

production, Young Hamlet, at the IndyFringe Theatre. "Our company is IUPUI students and

actors. It's the theatrical arm of the New Oxford Shakespeare," says Bourus, who says the group will focus on early modern and

classical theater, and is seeking community funding to support a production

schedule of two to three shows a year.

Bourus and her team of editors are charged

with delivering all their materials to Oxford University Press by April 2015,

for publication the following year, in April 2016. The unveiling of the latest

edition of Shakespeare's works will serve as the occasion for a summer

Shakespeare festival in Indianapolis that Bourus says

will bring artists and scholars from around the world to the city for what will

amount to a Shakespeare Super Bowl. "We would like to have the biggest

Shakespeare festival in North America."

Bourus believes the Shakespeare project

will put IUPUI and Indianapolis on the world stage. "An urban campus, a campus

that's part of a city that's growing and dynamic, is where Shakespeare ought to

happen. It's a great opportunity for us to be global."


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