Lecture: Shakespeare's Language Machine

Oregon Shakespeare festival

Shakespeare scholar Ralph Alan Cohen takes on Oregon Shakespeare Festival's "Play On!" project, which plans to translate Shakespeare's 39 plays into contemporary English.

Date & Time:

Monday, February 20, 2017
7:00 PM - 8:30 PM


Free and Open to the Public


O'Shaughnessy-Frey Library, O'Shaughnessy Room (Room 108; Building #4 on campus map)

Ralph Alan Cohen

In "the geekiest exercise ever," according to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's own words, the theatre has commissioned 36 contemporary playwrights to translate Shakespeare's 39 plays into contemporary English. What does it mean to "translate" Shakespeare?

Using three basic arguments, Shakespeare scholar Ralph Alan Cohen will challenge the assumption that Shakespeare needs translation into contemporary English and it does so in three basic ways. First, it attempts to  demonstrate that our language today is, in terms of vocabulary, Shakespeare's  language. Second, it argues that one fundamental reason we go to plays is to hear and see fresh language. Finally, it tries to show the methods that Shakespeare and his actors used to make the stage into a language machine, simultaneously inventing and  translating language for the audience, are methods that work as well today as they did then.

Ralph Alan Cohen is Founding Executive Director of the American Shakespeare Center and Gonder Professor of Shakespeare and Performance in the MFA program he founded at Mary Baldwin University.  He led the building of the Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton, Virginia. He has directed thirty-five productions of early modern plays, including America’s first professional production of Beaumont’s The Knight of the Burning Pestle and Middleton’s Your Five Gallants, which he co-edited for Oxford’s Collected Works of Thomas Middleton. His book, ShakesFear and How to Cure It, is a handbook for teachers of Shakespeare; his current book project is a guide for contemporary actors in using classical rhetoric for performance. His awards include Virginia’s Outstanding Faculty Award, the Governor’s Arts Award, the Folger Library’s Shakespeare Steward Award for innovative teaching, and the Globe’s Sam Wanamaker Award for pioneering work in Shakespeare.

This event is sponsored by the Department of English, the Terrence J. Murphy Institute, and the John Lee Doll Endowment for Theater.

In addition to the above event, Dr. Cohen will be giving a free 90-minute public lecture titled "Shakespeare Directs from the Tavern" at the Whiting Proscenium Theater, Rarig Center, University of Minnesota West Bank (330 21st Ave S., Minneapolis), at 7:30pm on Sunday, February 19th; a parking garage is located across the street.

In Shakespeare’s day the rehearsal time for the production of a play was limited to a day or two and there was no director. In this interactive presentation, Cohen explores the ways that Shakespeare used rhetoric and verse in his script to shape the performances of his fellow actors. In doing so, Professor Cohen, assisted by faculty and students, shares with the audience some of the delights of the language in Shakespeare’s plays and provides a few remedies for “ShakesFear.” 

Parking (available for $1/hour after 4pm)

Anderson Parking Facility--located at the corner of Cretin Ave. and Grand Ave.

Morrison Parking Ramp--located beneath Morrison Residence Hall, visitors parking in the Morrison ramp should enter campus at the intersection of Selby Ave. and Finn St. Follow the drive aisle south , under the skyway, toward the stadium. Take a hard right at the end of the drive aisle. The visitor ramp entrance is the eastern entrance beneath the residence hall.

McNeely Parking Ramp--visitor parking is available at the McNeely Ramp only after 4:00 pm and on weekends. The McNeely Ramp entrance is located within parking lot K, underneath McNeely Hall.

Anderson Student Center Parking Garage--visitor parking is available at the Anderson Student Center Parking Garage only after 4:00 pm and on weekends. The Anderson Student Center Parking Garage entrance can be accessed from the Anderson Student Center turnaround off of Cretin Avenue.

All programs offered by the University of St. Thomas shall be readily accessible to individuals with disabilities. For details, call (651) 962-6315.

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