George Diepenbrock
KU News Service

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

Thu, 04/17/2014

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,

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,

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,

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Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior from Burns studying in Kyrgyzstan, interrupted helping her host family prepare dinner to make a Skype call on Monday evening.

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Wanna Skype? Chancellor gets creative to surprise Truman winner From KU News Service: Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior from Burns studying in Kyrgyzstan, interrupted helping her host family prepare dinner to make a Skype call on Monday evening. To her surprise, Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little was on the other end of the call letting Koehn know she had been named a 2015 Harry S. Truman Scholar. Koehn is the 18th KU student to be named a Truman Scholar and the only 2015 recipient from the state of Kansas. Earlier this month, she was also named a 2015 Udall Scholar. And in spite of a distance of more than 10,800 kilometers and 11 time zones, Koehn’s thrill from hearing the news from the chancellor came through loud and clear. “Ashlie’s experience at KU epitomizes a quality undergraduate experience. She challenged herself in her coursework, exposed herself to different research opportunities, studied abroad in Germany, Switzerland and Kyrgyzstan, and participated in both student government and community service projects,” Gray-Little said. “This is quite a year for Ashlie. Her hard work is a wonderful reflection on her and also a great reflection on the university, and we all congratulate her.” Each new Truman Scholar receives up to $30,000 for graduate study. Scholars also receive priority admission and supplemental financial aid at some premier graduate institutions, leadership training, career and graduate school counseling, and special internship opportunities within the federal government. Koehn, a member of KU’s nationally recognized University Honors Program, is majoring in environmental studies, economics and international studies. Her goal after earning her KU degree is to pursue a master’s degree in economics at either the London School of Economics or the University of Reading, with a focus on the economics of climate change. In 2014, she received KU’s Newman Civic Engagement Award for her work establishing the Coalition against Slavery and Trafficking. Her involvement with the issue was sparked by Hannah Britton, associate professor of political science and women, gender, and sexuality studies, who hosted national conference on contemporary slavery at KU three years ago. “Ashlie and I met several times to think about what KU students could contribute to the issue of slavery and human trafficking, and the result was her founding of KU CAST,” Britton said. “After a year as president, Ashlie successfully handed the organization over to the next student leader. She demonstrated her strong leadership qualities by setting a unique goal and then pursuing it with her sense of passion, engagement and dedication. No matter the country or context, her leadership strength is evident in her coursework, her public service and her work experiences.” The University Honors Program works with a campus committee to select KU’s nominees for the Truman Scholarship and supports them during the application process. Anne Wallen, assistant director of national fellowships and scholarships, noted it was an amazing ruse to pull off the surprise. Originally, the call was set up to be between Wallen and Koehn. “I was totally not prepared to be greeted by Chancellor Gray-Little, but it was an amazing surprise for sure,” Koehn said. “As a first-generation student, it took time to learn the collegiate system, but my parents taught me to be resourceful and independent from a young age and KU and the Kansas Air National Guard have provided me with the opportunities to drive me into the future, both at graduate school and in my career. I plan to use the Truman Scholarship to pursue a career as an environmental economist helping to shape future trade agreements and leverage action on important international environmental issues, particularly concerning climate change.” Koehn also had a surprise of her own for the chancellor — the meal she was helping to prepare was not exactly typical Kansas dinner fare. On the menu with her host family in Kyrgyzstan on Monday was a traditional Kyrgyz meal called Beshbarmak, or “five fingers,” because you eat it with your hands. The dish is made of horse and sheep and was being prepared as a birthday celebration for Koehn’s host mom. Chancellor Gray-Little, as she signed off from Skype, made sure to encourage Koehn to enjoy her Beshbarmak. Koehn is the daughter of Rodney and Carolyn Koehn of Burns. She graduated from Fredric Remington High School in Moundridge. She is an active member of the Kansas Air National Guard and currently on leave while studying abroad in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. She is a member of the KU Global Scholars Program and a past member of the Student Senate. In addition to being named a 2015 Truman and Udall scholar, she was named a 2014 Boren Scholar and Gilman Scholar and in 2013 was named the Kansas Air National Guard Airman of the Year.

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