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StFX professor Dr. Laura Estill’s Shakespeare expertise quoted in New York Times

May 20th, 2020
Laura Estill
Dr. Laura Estill

Dr. Laura Estill, a StFX English professor and Canada Research Chair in Digital Humanities who specializes in Shakespeare and early modern culture, was recently sought out for her expertise in an article that appeared in the New York Times, where she also found herself among heady company.  

Dr. Estill is quoted in Alexis Soloski’s article, “Is This a Livestream I See Before Me? All the world with an internet connection has suddenly become a stage. A lot of those stages have programmed Shakespeare.

“It was an honour to be quoted in the New York Times,” says Dr. Estill. “W. B. Worthen, one of the other experts quoted in this article, is the editor of The Harcourt Brace Anthology of Drama, which was one of my first textbooks in undergrad; it was one that helped me appreciate the importance of historical and cultural contexts of plays. Michael Witmore is director of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C., one of my favourite places in the world. I have conducted a lot of the research for my book and articles at the Folger.”

Dr. Estill, who is also editor of Early Modern Digital Review, says her research focuses on the reception history of plays by Shakespeare and his contemporaries from his own historical moment to today. Her first book, Dramatic Extracts in Seventeenth-Century English Manuscripts, focused on what parts of plays early play readers and playgoers copied into their manuscripts; her recent articles (such as her chapter in Shakespeare’s Theatrical Documents, edited by Tiffany Stern) looks at how Shakespeare is catalogued more than other dramatists of his time in library catalogues, which changes how we can search and find information. She recently guest edited an issue of Early Modern Digital Review about the different kinds of Shakespeare texts online. The article that led to being quoted in the New York Times considers how Shakespeare is represented in digital humanities projects. “I love to think about the questions of how and what we read in both my research and in my teaching here at StFX, where I teach English literature, book history, and digital humanities,” she says.

ONLINE SHAKESPEARE IN THE TIME OF CORONAVIRUS

Plague closed theatres in Shakespeare’s day; coronavirus closed our theatres this summer. Dr. Estill says that Dr. Soloski, who wrote the New York Times piece about online Shakespeare in the time of coronavirus, contacted her as she had seen a journal article Dr. Estill published last year called “Digital Humanities’ Shakespeare Problem,” in which Dr. Estill talks about how we build digital projects and how that reflects our understanding of canon.

In the New York Times article, Dr. Estill, who too has a fondness for the Bard, argues that now is time also to take artistic rinks and look at the work of others beyond Shakespeare.

“Yes. I love Shakespeare as much as (probably more than!) the next person, but there are a ton of other fantastic playwrights whose work also deserves to be heard,” she says.

“It’s great to see online attention to Shakespeare now, when we are all at home, like Sir Patrick Stewart reading the sonnets on Twitter. The Stratford Festival is streaming Shakespeare plays online for free this summer! It would have been great for Stratford to stream plays by their other playwrights, too. I was particularly looking forward to Ann-Marie MacDonald’s new play Hamlet 911 and Thomson Highway’s modern classic The Rez Sisters—while it might not be possible to mount a full-scale production in these times, this moment offers opportunity for online play readings and book clubs.”

Dr. Estill has written a blog post for the British Council about Shakespeare’s enduring appeal. She says Shakespeare’s popularity comes from a confluence of factors, including his position in our educational system and theatres, which in turn comes from generations of tradition. “Many of Shakespeare’s plays are excellent; but there are many other excellent plays that have not achieved the revered status of Shakespeare.”

On a personal level, Dr. Estill says she realized she loved Shakespeare when, at seven years old, she went to the Stratford Festival of Canada to see A Midsummer Night's Dream with her grandmother. “I was transfixed by everything from the language, to the romance, to the day-glo gymnast fairies (the latter of which appalled my grandmother),” she writes in a post for the Folger Shakespeare Library.

“Shakespeare is magical because he matters: to this day, he inspires countless directors, actors, musicians, and writers who use, borrow, and adapt his words. Shakespeare matters because he is magical: we continue to return to his works so we can conjure new ideas of our own.”

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