Expert Q&A on Shakespeare at 400

UVic professor emeritus Michael Best, an early online trailblazer who founded the Internet Shakespeare Editions (ISE) in the mid ‘90s, explains the lasting impact of Shakespeare’s oeuvre and why people are still enamoured with the Bard of Avon.

UVic is a leader in the fields of Shakespearean study, Renaissance literature and digital humanities, and its English language and literatures programs are ranked in the top 200 in the world by the QS Subject Rankings. Scroll further below for a list of additional UVic experts available this month for comment to media.

Why is Shakespeare still so important four centuries after his death? Why him, and not Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson or any other well-known English playwright?

Simple answer: Shakespeare was the greatest — the best.

Also, he produced the largest corpus; therefore, through his work, we get to know him: we see him in all manner of moods — from playful to nihilistic. His is a kaleidoscopic, fascinating variety.

Shakespeare does great entrance and exit lines. Actors love the plays and Shakespeare was an actor. He knew what actors wanted.

Where do you think Shakespeare would fit in today, in 21st century London?

Many of Shakespeare’s plays were collaborative, much like the TV script writing of today. And he was somebody working actively in what was then the only popular entertainment in London. So maybe today he would be a brilliant script writer. The parallel with TV scripts is not a distant one.

Ours is a very visual culture. Shakespeare and his contemporaries were very verbal. For instance, there are lines in popular plays of the period that are simply lists of names of exotic places. But if his audiences loved the sounds of Early Modern English, how would that method translate today? It’s not easy to combine popularity with intellect and quality as he did, with good writing and acting.

What do you see as the future of the ISE?

The digital world is changing fast. We ensure continuity and stability by using open source software, and by encoding our work in standards-compliant ways that ensure that whatever we create now can be understood by machines far into the future.

The ISE is an open-access, peer-reviewed scholarly website with leading experts on its editorial board. The site has been visited by millions of people in the past 20 years and each month it registers over 2 1/2 million downloaded pages — giving fans, scholars and actors around the world unprecedented access to the works and words of the Bard.

Although officially retired for more than a decade, Best is still active with the ISE and is currently editing a digital version of
King Lear.

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