Foundation News

Fellows Celebrate Shakespeare

May 20, 2016

“To me, fair friend, you never can be old”

So begins William Shakespeare’s 104th Sonnet, but it could be the motto of Guggenheim Fellows from the Foundation’s beginnings till 2016—the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death—since so many Fellows have studied, parsed, interpreted, and reimagined the iconic works in the Bard’s canon.

Of course, academic-oriented projects spring first to mind, such as the New Shakespeare Variorum. Under the auspices of the Modern Language Association since 1933, a number of Fellows in English Literature have edited volumes in this ongoing series. The earliest Fellowship holder to be involved in this project was Hyder Edward Rollins (F1926), who edited Poems (vol. 22, published in 1938) and Sonnets (vols. 24 and 25, published in 1944). Richard A. J. Knowles (F1976) and Robert K. Turner Jr. (F1983) were the series general editors; now Paul Werstine and Eric Rasmussen share that responsibility with Knowles. In addition, Knowles edited As You Like It (1977) and Turner, The Winter’s Tale (2005; with Virginia Westling Haas). Mark Eccles (F1955) edited Measure for Measure (1980), George W. Williams (F1977) used his Fellowship to support his editing of Henry V, and Thomas Whitfield Baldwin (F1931), Cyrus Hoy (F1962), and John Hazel Smith (F1965, Renaissance History) were the first assigned editors to other volumes, but unfortunately in their cases the work outlived the scholar. Helmed by noted Shakespearean scholar Stephen Greenblatt (F1974) as general editor and coedited by Walter Cohen, Jean E. Howard (F1999), Katharine Eisaman Maus (F2000), Gordon McMullan, and Suzanne Gossett, The Norton Shakespeare (3d ed.), which was published in 2015, offered not only a hardbound text but a digital edition as well. Helge Kökeritz (F1943, 1950, Linguistics) approached Shakespeare’s work from a different angle, devoting his Fellowship terms to “a comprehensive study of Shakespeare’s pronunciation on the basis of recent work in early new English phonology.”

Perhaps better known, and certainly more accessible for the general reader, is the Norton Facsimile of the First Folio of Shakespeare (1969), assembled by Charlton Hinman (F1953, 1954) from his selection of the most authoritative versions of each page from the Folger Library’s seventy-nine copies of that iconic work, a project that would have been impossible without the help of his eponymous collator. Not surprisingly, the Folger Library has played a prominent role in the work of a many other Fellows. For instance, it published John Philip Kemble’s Promptbooks, eleven facsimile volumes edited by Charles Harlan Shattuck (F1961, English Literature), as well as Shattuck’s Shakespeare on the American Stage (1976, 1987), both volumes of which won the George Freedley Memorial Award.

In 1988, the Folger Library also commissioned Stephen Douglas Burton (F1969, Music Composition) to write the music for its production of Merchant of Venice, and Melissa Arctic, a play by Craig Wright (F1982, Music & Dance Research) that is based on The Winter’s Tale but set in Minnesota in contemporary times, had its world premiere at the Folger in 2004. (And five Fellows have served as directors of the Folger Library: James Gilmer McManaway [F1953; interim director], Louis B. Wright [F1928], O. B. Hardison Jr. [F1963], Werner Gundersheimer [F1974], and most recently Gail Kern Paster [F1990]—all but Gundersheimer were Fellows in English Literature; his Fellowship was in Medieval & Renaissance Literature.)

In 2003, the New York City Opera chose an operatic version of Twelfth Night by Joel Feigin (F1985, Music Composition) for its VOX series; the chamber orchestra version of Feigin’s composition was commissioned and performed by the Long Leaf Opera in North Carolina in 2005. Concertgoers at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 2007 lent their ears to Pyramus and Thisbe, an adaptation for children of Shakespeare’s take on the mythological tale for which Mark O’Donnell (F1986, Drama and Performance Arts) wrote the libretto, read by John Lithgow, and Daniel Kellogg composed the score, performed by the National Symphony. And Ned Rorem (F1957, Music Composition) looked frequently to Shakespeare for his inspiration for such compositions as Four Sonnets of Shakespeare for tenor and piano (2008) and the chamber works Romeo and Juliet for flute and guitar (1977) and After Reading Shakespeare for cello (1980), to name a few.

Artists in other fields also paid their tribute to the Bard. Chris Adrian (F 2009, Fiction) gave A Midsummer Night’s Dream a modern twist in The Great Night, setting his story in modern-day San Francisco. Jane Comfort (F2010) created the choreography for the Shakespeare in the Park production of Much Ado About Nothing (2004), and Rennie Harris (F2010, Choreography) won a BESSIE award for his evening-length hip-hop opera Rome and Jewels (2000). Julia Reinhard Lupton (F2013, English Literature) pushed Shakespeare further into the modern age with After Oedipus: Shakespeare in Psychoanalysis (with Kenneth Reinhard; 1993),,,, her website Thinking with Shakespeare , a 2015 TED Talk entitled “How (Not) To Break Up with Your Girlfriend: Shakespeare on Truth, Love, and Lies,” and, just in time for this anniversary year, Shakespeare and Hospitality: Ethics, Politics, and Exchange (2016), which she and David Goldstein edited for the Routledge Studies in Shakespeare.

These Guggenheim Fellows and more—too many to mention—have found and continue to find inspiration for their own art and scholarship in the centuries-old but never outdated work of the greatest writer in the English language. Enobarbus’ description in Antony and Cleopatra (Act II, scene ii) of the Egyptian queen’s sway over the Roman general might be modified to capture the spell Shakespeare continues to cast over each new generation:

Age cannot wither him, nor custom stale
His infinite variety. Other writers cloy
The appetites they feed, but he makes hungry
Where most he satisfies. . . .

Image: Courtesy Sotheby’s
Article: Written by Mary Kiffer