Indiana University Research & Creative Activity

Humanities, Then and Now

Volume XXIX Number 1
Fall 2006

<< Table of Contents



Terri Bourus
Terri Bourus
Photo © Tyagan Miller

Students making Globe Theatre model
Terri Bourus works with IU Kokomo students building a model of the Globe Theatre.
Photo courtesy of IU Kokomo Office of Communications and Marketing

Shakespeare Off the Page

by Michael Wilkerson

When Terri Bourus held one of the two extant copies of the original 1603 quarto of Hamlet for the first time, she cried. Her reaction, according to the curator at the British Library, was not unusual, but her journey to a career as a significant Shakespeare scholar has been anything but ordinary.

Bourus, assistant professor of English at Indiana University Kokomo, grew up in California and spent the first 11 years of her professional life as a dental hygienist. "As much as I liked that, it wasn't what I wanted to spend my entire life doing," she said during a recent visit to the Lilly Library in Bloomington. "Being able to read Shakespeare's original quartos, having access to the documents I've been able to examine . . . it's just amazing."

Amazing, perhaps, but not unearned. It would be hard to find a faculty member who's done more with her opportunities than Terri Bourus. A "Big Ten" kind of person who was at first reluctant to work at the small IU Kokomo campus, today she is the 2006 recipient of both the Trustees Teaching Award and the Claude Rich Excellence in Teaching Award. Convinced that research and teaching must complement and enhance one another, Bourus has parlayed her research into a campus-wide, semester-long celebration of Shakespeare, with student trips to London and Ireland, and residencies at IU Kokomo by renowned actors and scholars.

"My original idea was simply to bring the arts to Kokomo," Bourus says, remembering the small beginning of what became a Renaissance extravaganza. "I thought, let's bring the real thing to this campus, real Shakespearean actors from London." She received a New Frontiers grant from IU in 2005 to organize a residency by the renowned acting troupe The Actors From The London Stage (AFTLS). She wanted to bring the entire campus into this event and called for volunteers to help. Expecting a handful, she was overwhelmed by 35 students and 11 faculty members who quickly organized themselves into the "Shakespeare Team" to plan the one-week visit by the actors for February 2006.

"And then it snowballed," Bourus says. A one-week visit became the IU Kokomo "Semester of Shakespeare," which included a Renaissance Faire, complete with madrigals performed in costume (by the IU Kokomo Singers), two new and filled-to-capacity Shakespeare-era courses, lectures by renowned visiting scholars, and more.

In an atmosphere that seemed to encompass the campus, graduate student Cherrie Alexander made red velvet Elizabethan hats, modeled on the one worn by Al Pacino in the 2005 film of The Merchant of Venice, for every member of the Shakespeare Team. After that, they became known as "The Red Hats." During February, the AFTLS actors visited classes across campus, conducted workshops, attended nightly dinner parties and rehearsals, Red Hats in tow, and capped off the week with two sold-out performances that overflowed the campus's 900-seat auditorium. It was the first time the theatre had filled to capacity since 1987.

"But it didn't end there," says Bourus. By the time of Shakespeare's 442nd birthday--April 23, 2006--Bourus and her students had set in motion the campus's first annual "Shakespeare in the Springtime" celebration, featuring jugglers, mimes, minstrels, dancers, knights in armor, and ladies in gowns. "We had just about everything," she remembers, "due in large part to the efforts of the Shakespeare Team and their chairperson, Katherine Washburn."

A recipient of multiple grants from IU's Office of the Vice Provost for Research, Bourus is using a combination of modern technology and old-fashioned detective work to reveal new insights into the publication of Shakespeare's texts.

"In the two versions of Hamlet that we have, the challenge is to determine whether both versions reflect Shakespeare," Bourus says. "For example, in one version, Hamlet talks about 'this too too solid flesh,' whereas in the other, he says, 'this too too sullied flesh.' The difference is significant, and the puzzle is, what kind of flesh is Hamlet referring to? Answering questions like that is at the heart of the work I do."

To investigate these texts properly, it helps to view the original printed work. "The research grants not only supported my travel to London, they've also allowed me to perform beta radiographs on the Hamlet quartos," she explains. The beta radiograph, which the former hygienist describes as similar to "a larger version of a bitewing x-ray," reveals the pattern of the making of the paper, enabling her to identify not only its place and manufacturer of origin, but also the date of its production. By tying knowledge of one piece of text to others she's examining, Bourus hopes to discover connections between print shops, paper manufacturers, and financiers, thus revealing links among Shakespeare's works that were previously unknown.

The focus of much of her study is Nicholas Ling, a financier/publisher who supported the publication of many of the known early versions of Shakespeare's works, including both quartos of Hamlet, one published in 1603 and the other in the winter of 1604–05. "For generations, we called the earlier text the 'bad quarto,' assuming that it was a transcription of what some unscrupulous actor could remember," Bourus says. "But I'm in the business of disproving that."

Bourus notes that the so-called "bad quarto," known to scholars as Q1, is 2,221 lines long, whereas the version of Hamlet we know, the second quarto, runs 4,056 lines. She believes that Q1 reflects a performance text, originally written by a young Shakespeare but altered by actors during its 16 years in the repertoires of the acting companies with whom Shakespeare worked. The later text, now called Q2, reflects a revision by Shakespeare, in Bourus's view, possibly written with reading audiences in mind as well as theatre-goers. The origins of these now-iconic texts are impossible to identify with certainty, Bourus observes, but the mystery continues to enthrall Hamlet scholars.

Bourus has discovered, though, that Nicholas Ling's paper was used to publish Shakespeare's works, including both Hamlets, at two different print shops, those of Valentine Simmes and James Roberts. From her research on Ling, and from extant knowledge of Simmes and Roberts, she knows that Ling, within a year's time, financed two radically different publications of Hamlet, thus raising doubt that Q1 could be a truly "bad quarto."

While most modern editions of Hamlet use either the second, 4,056-line text (those who have sat through a rare unabridged production of the play can attest to its length) or the later Folio edition printed in 1623 with 3,907 lines, most modern texts include some stage directions from Q1, which are much more specific and theatrical than those in Q2, lending further credence to the theory that Q1 reflects a playhouse document.

Bourus is one of only two scholars who has pursued this kind of detailed investigation of Nicholas Ling--the kind of research that may yield significant revelations about the origin of Shakespeare's printed texts. (None of Shakespeare's handwritten manuscripts are known to have survived, save a portion of a collaborative text from his early years, and many of his plays were not printed, as far as we know, until years after his death.)

"I really believe Ling is the key," Bourus says. "For so long he was dismissed as, per the quote of one scholar, 'a back alley publisher without scruples, who'll print anything.' I hope to disprove that, and I'm also trying to understand who else Ling dealt with, who else printed works for him, who else used the same paper."

To finish her investigations, Bourus will need more trips to England and more beta radiographs. She has carefully stewarded her original research office travel funds, which she refers to as the "Al Wertheim money" in honor of the late associate research dean who first assisted her with her scholarship. "He drove up to talk with me after I applied for my first grant," she remembers. "It was inspiring that a person of his stature would take the time and be interested and encouraging about what I wanted to do. Al Wertheim made a major difference in my life and my career."

That career now includes projects that go well beyond textual scholarship. Bourus is working on a series of interviews with renowned directors of the several film versions of Hamlet as well as a multimedia series of Shakespeare's works intended to bring "Shakespeare from the page to life." Published by Sourcebooks, Inc. as part of their MediaFusion series, these volumes include newly edited texts of the plays, along with accompanying CDs narrated by the noted Shakespearean actor Sir Derek Jacobi. Bourus's first edition, A Midsummer Night's Dream, is on bookshelves now, and she is in the process of completing work on Hamlet for a December 2006 release date. She plans to incorporate more of Q1 Hamlet than has been previously done.

More versions, including an online site, are in the works, and Bourus is now developing IU Kokomo's first course in textual studies in response to student demand. "The things I learn in research and at the conferences where I present my work come back in innumerable ways: in my classrooms, in the community, and in my research and writing," she says. The dividends, she has learned, are rich and often unexpected.

"After one of the campus performances of The Merchant of Venice," Bourus recalls, "an elderly woman approached me and thanked me for bringing Shakespeare back into her life. She had grown up in Ireland and moved here after World War II. The cultural experiences she was able to get in Kokomo were few and far between, and she loved theatre. I will never forget the way she told me her story, and then said, 'Thank you so much, Professor. Thank you for bringing Shakespeare to Kokomo.'"

Michael Wilkerson is a professional writer and administrator who has taught courses at IU in English, journalism, and arts administration. He is currently assisting with the university's reaccreditation project.

Related Articles:

All the (Synthetic) World's a Stage