U of G launches revolutionary Shakespeare website
The largest and most complete website in the world dedicated to showing Shakespeare’s cultural influence on a nation was launched by the University of Guelph today, on the eve of the playwright's 440th birthday. Located at www.canadianshakespeares.ca, the website marks the first step in establishing the Centre for Canadian Shakespeare Studies Online at U of G and revolutionizes the way information in the humanities is collected, conceptualized and digitized for an international audience.
This site is part of the university’s Canadian Adaptations of Shakespeare Project (CASP) funded by a Premier’s Research Excellence Award and a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council standard research grant. After close to four years of research completed by 30 undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral students, more than 6,000 pages of information on some 500 plays that have been transformed and adapted in Canada are documented on the website, providing free information accessible from anywhere in the world.
“CASP is the first research project to explore in detail how Shakespeare – the cultural influence, not the man – has had an enormous effect on a country’s culture,” said English professor Daniel Fischlin, CASP director. “The website tries to present this cultural legacy in national terms over an extended historical period.”
Fischlin and his team travelled across the country to schools, libraries and even people’s basements and attics to uncover original Canadian adaptations of Shakespeare. “A lot of the information we found is unique to this site,” said Fischlin. “We’ve used unorthodox research techniques because there’s no central archival system for keeping track of what goes on across the country. We’ve done a lot of face-to-face meetings with playwrights and actors. This project has made us realize that we should take better care of this cultural legacy.”
Although the new website contains a lot of academic information, it is far from stuffy. It includes three galleries full of video clips, audio clips and images that have a Canadian connection with Shakespeare. “There are video clips of the Canadian film Strange Brew because it’s a takeoff on Hamlet,” said Fischlin. “We have Wayne and Shuster’s mock TV broadcast of a baseball game done mostly in lines adapted from Shakespeare, scenes from MacHomer, which is a blending of The Simpsons and Macbeth done by a Canadian, and a clip of the episode of South Park called ‘South Park visits the Canadian Shakespeare Festival,’ an obvious reference to the Stratford Festival, the largest Shakespeare Festival in the world.”
A whole section of the website is devoted to Star Trek and Shakespeare. “You would not believe the amount of information on Canadian thespians in space because of the Christopher Plummer, William Shatner connection,” said Fischlin. “We’ve got Shatner reading the King Henry V ‘Once more unto the breach’ speech and clips from Shatner’s Hamlet.”
Exclusive interviews with more than 15 Canadian playwrights videotaped and transcribed by Fischlin’s team are available in the interview gallery. The image gallery is full of rare historical documents, like the first program for the Stratford Festival.
The website contains the full texts of more than 35 rare plays in a one-of-a-kind anthology complemented by introductions with embedded links to a database that gives hard, factual information on each play. “The database and the online anthology are the core of the hard research that’s been done, and as we find information, we continue to update the site,” said Fischlin.“There’s more information than you’ll find anywhere else, including the Canadian theatre encyclopedias. We’ve been approached by the World Shakespeare Bibliography Online, the largest Shakespeare bibliography in the world, because they don’t have much of what we have. So they’ve been seeking us out, and we’re feeding them things that we’ve found.”
Fischlin has no problem with sharing the information that’s taken his team so long to accumulate. In fact, that’s the whole purpose of the website. “There’s no profit motive here; the motive is to make accessible a huge range of information that has never been presented with this level of sophistication. We’ve leapfrogged ahead conceptually in understanding how to deliver information to a worldwide public audience. I think ultimately this model of presenting information is going to be a model that universities move toward.”
Hard copies of all the information on the website will be deposited in U of G’s theatre archives, which have the largest collection of theatre materials in Canada.
Fischlin’s team has obtained the rights to use an image of a controversial portrait of Shakespeare that has a Canadian connection as the website’s signature image. The painting may be a portrait of Shakespeare that a Canadian, Lloyd Sullivan, inherited from his mother in 1972. It’s believed that a 39-year-old Shakespeare sat for an ancestor of Sullivan’s, an unknown actor and painter called John Saunders, in 1603.
School of English and Theatre Studies
University of Guelph
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