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IUPUI professor Terri Bourus leads team to world stage with New Oxford Shakespeare’s groundbreaking research

Dec. 14, 2016

The New Oxford Shakespeare project at IUPUI -- led by professor of English drama Terri Bourus from 2009 to 2016 and supported by the IU School of Liberal Arts -- is attracting attention worldwide for a new edition of "The New Oxford Shakespeare Complete Works," now being published by Oxford University Press.

Terri Bourus

Terri Bourus, professor of English drama | PHOTO COURTESY OF TERRI BOURUS

The launch of the edition was celebrated in November at Oxford University at Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon and finally, under the glittering lights of the Globe Theatre in London. 

The "Complete Works" is not only a collection of all of Shakespeare’s plays and poems in old and modern-spelling versions, but it also places on the front pages of each play the names of all the writers involved -- not just Shakespeare’s. The New Oxford Shakespeare team’s research confirms that Shakespeare collaborated actively with his fellow playwrights in early modern London.

The most notable perhaps is his collaboration with Christopher Marlowe. The three "Henry VI" plays carry strong evidence of Marlowe’s linguistic fingerprints.

Shakespeare scholars have long suspected that Marlowe's voice could be heard in the "Henry VI" plays, but the editors at the New Oxford Shakespeare project did more than simply speculate. Using massive linguistic databases, they applied computational stylistics to test the linguistic characteristics of specific writers by the words they used most frequently. Using this tool, New Oxford Shakespeare researchers have verified that the other voices in these plays include Marlowe, George Peele, John Fletcher, Thomas Kyd, Thomas Middleton and Thomas Nashe, to name a few.

"Our research will change the way we look at and study Shakespeare," said Bourus, who is one of the general editors on "The New Oxford Shakespeare," along with Gary Taylor, John Jowett and Gabriel Egan. "Shakespeare can no longer be taught or studied as a solitary genius writing alone in his attic room or the local pub. He was a genius, yes, and he did write most of what we recognize as Shakespeare, but it is clear now that he did not always create his plays alone."

While confirmation of Shakespeare’s collaboration with other playwrights is an important discovery, "The New Oxford Shakespeare" offers additional insights into all of Shakespeare’s works.

The new edition includes four print versions and an exciting and interactive digital edition. The "Complete Works" is the first multi-platform, multi-format edition of Shakespeare’s plays and the first to recognize the complicated issue of collaboration.

The New Oxford Shakespeare

While confirmation of Shakespeare’s collaboration with other playwrights is an important discovery, "The New Oxford Shakespeare" offers additional insights into all of Shakespeare’s works. | IMAGE COURTESY OF OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS

The modern-spelling edition was published to international acclaim in October. Not only is the spelling modernized and archaic words noted and explained, but in addition and for the first time, the plays include performance notes and bricolages, performance images and, perhaps the most exciting part, music as it was originally written and performed in Shakespeare’s theaters.

The editors scrupulously researched and then recorded the history of each play in performance, then added performance notes that describe staging and allow theater professionals to see possibilities in their own staged interpretations. Musicologist John Cunningham, of the University of Bangor in Wales, edited and provided the music now fully incorporated into the playtexts themselves -- another unique addition to "The New Oxford Shakespeare."

The modern spelling thus presents the plays as performances -- performing from the pages, as it were, what is seen on the stage. The bricolages raise the curtain on the plays with critical, cultural and artistic responses carefully selected by the editors to enhance the presentation of the plays and to add to the extensive theater history of the plays and poems.

The two-volume "Critical Reference Edition," which features the original spelling and language of the early modern period, includes scholarly introductions detailing even more about the origins, creation and development of the plays and poems.

Finally, the "Authorship Companion," to be released in January, will provide a collection of essays by scholars working on the important and innovative research on the authorship and collaboration questions.

Bourus, a textual scholar, editor, eight-time award-winning teacher and equity actor, led the IUPUI editing team. During the project’s time at IUPUI, four research associates and associate editors with specialties in editing dramatic texts, authorship, performance studies and textual research worked with Bourus: Anna Pruitt, Rory Loughnane, Sarah Neville and Francis X. Connor. Under her guidance, the team of four post-doctoral fellows, 13 Master of Arts graduate students and 67 undergraduates learned the ropes of Shakespeare scholarship, text editing and acting drama. Bourus is the first theater professional to edit the plays of Shakespeare, lending her performance authority to plays that were written for and performed on the London -- and eventually the world -- stage.

IUPUI's New Oxford Shakespeare project aligns with priorities outlined in the university’s Bicentennial Strategic Plan, including catalyzing research, a vibrant community of scholars and global engagement.

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