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Scholarship and proud-pied April

It’s spring here in Victoria, and while a young man’s fancy can turn where it may, a studious Shakespearean’s thoughts turn to the annual meeting of the Shakespeare Association of America. It’s always held around Easter, when hotels are affordable and classes over, or nearly. This year we meet in Seattle – or, more accurately, in Bellevue, just to the east of the city center.

The program offers the usual snapshot of what’s in, what’s out as the assembled scholars enquire into the mystery of things. There are sessions on stage history and staging the plays, politics, philosophy (and its offshoot, critical theory), theology, textual studies, sexuality and gender in various flavors, race, the environment, diet, some other writers as they relate to Shakespeare, and so on.

I’m contributing, predictably enough, to a session on electronic media and Shakespeare. This time it’s a workshop looking in detail at a remarkable resource, the Shakespeare Quartos Archive. The ultimate plan for the project is to put searchable, high-quality images of all the extant quarto of Shakespeare’s plays online. The project has had sufficient funding (from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the UK Joint Information Systems Committee) to start with Hamlet. It’s a site worth exploring (it’s optimized for Firefox). And if you have a large monitor you can make some very cool comparisons between different versions of the early quartos.

One important feature of the site is that, like the Internet Shakespeare Editions, it is open to all. Resources that a few scant years ago were accessed only by a few scholars with research budgets sufficient to visit major libraries in the US and UK can now be explored by everyone from their desktop.

In between sessions, delegates to the SAA from the eastern provinces and states can enjoy the mild north-western spring weather. Expect showers, glimpses of sun, and temperatures hovering around ten degrees Celsius (50 in irrational Fahrenheit). I’m not sure whether Seattle can manage flowers like cuckoo-buds or lady-smocks, but there will be daisies pied and violets blue aplenty. That song from Love’s Labor’s Lost that begins so lyrically changes abruptly to the ironic as Shakespeare reminds us of that sign of early spring, the song of the cuckoo and its punning reminder of the cuckold – the “word of fear, / Unpleasing to a married ear.” No cuckoos in this part of the world (though I can’t vouch for the human variety); instead there is the cheerful, monotonous chirp of the North American robin, bold and russet-breasted, drilling in my garden for the early worm.

The moral? If you are a worm, sleep in.

Or, if you are a scholar and have to rise early to attend to a learned discussion, at least later in the day heed Sir Toby’s advice: “Th’art a scholar; let us therefore eat and drink” (Twelfth Night, TLN 712).

– Michael Best, Coordinating Editor

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