New course, and book by Adelphi professor, brings Shakespeare into the digital age
From the U.S.-Mexico border to soldiers stationed overseas—in the 21st century, we are no longer Shakespeare readers, we are Shakespeare users. That’s the premise of the book The Shakespeare User: Critical and Creative Appropriations in a Networked Culture, co-written by Louise Geddes, Ph.D., assistant professor of literature at Adelphi University.
The product of conversations from a Shakespeare Association of America conference, Dr. Geddes’ work builds on a new way to talk about 21st-century interaction with Shakespeare—the person and the text.
For Dr. Geddes and her co-editor, Valerie M. Fazel, Ph.D., Shakespeare and his writings are living documents that require students and fans to absorb centuries-old stories through the lens of their own experience.
The Shakespeare User recounts ways in which individuals have found their own methods of Shakespearean appropriation. In one case, an English professor from El Paso, Texas, uses Shakespeare-inspired YouTube videos to interpret life on the U.S.-Mexico border. In another chapter, an ex-Marine stationed in Kuwait codes one of the largest online Shakespeare databases as he makes sense of his time in the desert.
“Different people have different purposes for Shakespeare,” Dr. Geddes explains. “As we do that, we change not only the way we interact with Shakespeare, but also what Shakespeare is and what it means to the people who come afterwards.”
Embracing the enthusiasm of modern Shakespeare readers, Dr. Geddes says, is necessary to give everyone a voice—and legitimize it. “You can take the culture capital of Shakespeare and use it to empower students,” she says.
Dr. Geddes’ course this fall, Shakespeare Trash: Online Fan Cultures in the 21st Century, builds on these same principles of cultural, historical and literary exploration in relationship to fandom. In her classroom, she’ll examine fan culture, how fans become participants in the creation process, and the role of activist fan groups, such as The Harry Potter Alliance.
“Shakespeare Trash begins with our acknowledgment of fandom from the perspective of both fans and scholars,” Dr. Geddes says. “We ask ourselves,’What happens when we embrace that we love looking at Shakespeare memes on Tumblr and cats dressed up in Shakespeare costumes on Facebook?'”
Of course, the study of fan culture isn’t just pop culture fun for Geddes and her students. She acknowledges that, for many, Shakespeare represents the English language being imposed on them, a symbol of white imperial identity. Part of what intrigues her about Shakespeare is the way people reclaim it, denouncing its association as a symbol of Western hegemony.
“[Many academics] ask people to suppress their own experience when they critically read, but you can’t read critically without one’s own life experience,” Dr. Geddes says. “We’re trying to think of a way into that—and that’s what the fan course is going to do.”Assistant Professor Louise Geddes, Ph.D., is teaching Shakespeare Trash: Online Fan Cultures in the 21st Century this fall.
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