The Whole Globe Theater

Shakespeare project connects scholars across continents

Erica Endicott

When William Shakespeare wrote that “all the world’s a stage,” the Internet was about four centuries in the future, and no one could fathom a technology that would allow a person’s live image to be beamed across the ocean onto a screen.

So one has to wonder what the bard would think about English Professor Sheila Cavanagh’s summer class, International Shakespeare in a New Media World, which was cotaught by Kevin Quarmby, a Shakespearean actor and scholar in London who joined the class via Skype from as far away as London’s Rose Theatre, Kingston, and Morocco. The course was part of Emory’s inaugural Maymester summer program, a new curriculum that offers Emory College and visiting undergraduates the chance to earn four credit hours in three weeks.

To be sure, this is not the first time Skype has been used to bring a visitor into a college class. But this particular partnership, which began last year with a semester-long Shakespeare in Performance course, takes international collaboration and teaching through technology to new heights, with Quarmby fully participating in the leadership of the class and bringing a bit of Britain with him. One student told Cavanagh, “It really has been like he’s actually in the room.”

“However valuable the guest-lecture format via Skype may be in some settings, this is not our goal,” Cavanagh wrote in a recent article for the magazine Emory in the World. “Instead, we build up a relationship between both instructors and the students that spans an ocean.”

Quarmby—now a distinguished visiting scholar with the Halle Institute for Global Learning and a specialist in virtual residence with the Emory Center for Interactive Teaching, which has provided the technical expertise and support for the course—complements Cavanagh’s teaching of Shakespeare by coaching, coaxing, and inspiring non-theater students with little or no acting experience into bold performances that help deepen their understanding of the plays. He will join the faculty at Oxford College this fall.

Cavanagh first met Quarmby in Kolkata, India, at an international Shakespeare conference. When Quarmby suggested Skyping into her class, the offhand offer led not only to the shared Emory courses, but to expanded efforts reaching students in India and Morocco through videoconferencing.

Now codirectors of the World Shakespeare Project, Quarmby and Cavanagh teach Shakespeare to Indian students, juggling three different time zones to see the far-flung students’ performances rehearsed in their own language.

“It has been interesting to explore the language interpretations and nuances between the UK, India, and the Emory students,” Quarmby says. “There was a wonderful moment where they performed the witches’ scene from Macbeth in West Bengal, and it was spectacular because they were speaking in their local dialect.”

This spring, Cavanagh and Quarmby also accepted an invitation to visit Hassan II University in Casablanca, Morocco, to explore collaboration with Shakespeare scholars and students there, which is now under way.

“Most exciting was the response to our live interactive link with Atlanta. Students at Emory workshopped and performed scenes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream; students from Casablanca were invited to respond,” Cavanagh says. “The result was a dialogue between two distant student bodies, separated by continents and cultures, but at that moment united via the Internet.”

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