Bringing Shakespeare to life

It seems impossible for some to imagine anything exciting and new about that notoriously long-winded author William Shakespeare. He wrote centuries ago in an English tongue that hardly resembles our speech today.

One new professor, however, is impassioned about theater and Shakespeare, and is determined to pass that interest on to his students. This fall, GW welcomed Alexander Cheng-Yuan Huang, who will teach two English courses: Shakespeare Today and Global Shakespeare.

He plans to take an interactive and dynamic approach to involving students in Shakespeare and theater.

Students will perform skits, write an alternate ending to a piece, debate themes and issues and work on a film clip that will appear online. They will also attend two live performances at the theater in the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Shakespeare Theatre Company.

If anyone is well-prepared to ignite an interest in Shakespeare, the Renaissance and theater, it is Huang. He has held many previous research fellowships and in August, he gave a talk at the Edinburgh International Festival at the invitation of the British Council and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. His talk, “All the World’s a Stage,” garnered media attention and prompted interviews with BBC Scotland on radio and BBC 2 Review Show, which reviews theater festivals and performances on television.

“My work addresses, among other topics, the relationship between live performance and digital archives, the difficult but rewarding dialogues between Shakespeare and critical theories and the extensive transnational afterlife of Shakespeare and Renaissance drama on stage, on screen and in other media,” Huang said.

Working within a field that is so versatile requires global collaboration. Huang has served as general editor of The Shakespearean International Yearbook, as well as a consultant for theater festivals, early modern studies faculty at a summer graduate program at Middlebury College and a distinguished visiting faculty member at Seoul National University in South Korea.

His most recent large-scope project was a published book, “Chinese Shakespeares: Two Centuries of Cultural Exchange,” in which he examines the value and underlying themes about China in Shakespeare.

“The book makes the case that the transnational afterlife of Shakespeare rewrites commonplace conventions that often pass for tokens of authenticity,” Huang said.

The book has garnered numerous awards, including Modern Language Association’s Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize, an honorable mention in New York University’s Joe A. Callaway Prize for the Best Book on Drama or Theatre and Colleagues’ Choice Award of the International Convention for Asian Scholars.

Huang previously taught at Penn State University, and he comes to GW excited about working in an environment that actively fosters multidisciplinary research and draws connections between distinct historical times.

One example of this diverse institutional culture is the Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute, in which Huang and others comprise a dynamic group interested in and researching literary and cultural globalization during those time periods.

A heightened awareness of historical and present globalization will benefit students, and is another thing Huang hopes to instill.

“In the future, I hope to take students, as part of a course, to London, Stratford-upon-Avon and other exciting cities such as Edinburgh and Tokyo to see more performances or to attend major theater and art festivals,” Huang said.

And where better to put a focus on globalization than the District?

The Folger Shakespeare Library, where Huang will be a short-term research fellow in the fall, houses invaluable early modern manuscripts, including original Shakespeare works. Currently, there is an exhibit entitled “Fame, Fortune, & Theft: The Shakespeare First Folio” until Sept. 3, in which a rare complete copy of one of the original first folios of Shakespeare’s plays is on display.

Huang also cited other resources in the area which will assist his work, including the Shakespeare Theatre Company, Blackfriars Playhouse at the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, Va. and other resources, like the Library of Congress.

A lively and nurturing academic setting at GW, within the broader context of D.C., will certainly help Huang in future endeavors. He is currently working on a monograph on Shakespeare, comic narratives and intercultural theater.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.