Aug. 6, 2009

Cornell Summer College students present 'Othello' in Urdu, Arabic and other languages

Shakespeare in Urdu or Arabic?

No matter the language, the power of the Bard's words shines through, as students in Cornell Summer College showed July 29, performing "Othello" in their native languages in Balch Hall.

Students in Catherine Burroughs' six-week seminar read Act 4, Scene 3 (the "willow scene") from "Othello" in Arabic, Urdu, Spanish, Japanese and English.

The experience of hearing students read the play in multiple languages "demonstrates the ways in which Shakespeare's cross-cultural accessibility and continuing generativity for our own time can be realized through what playwright Suzan-Lori Parks describes as the rewarding and often risky 'physical act' of vocalizing words aloud," said Burroughs, professor of English at Wells College and a visiting professor of English at Cornell.

She added: "Working on this project with the students was one of the best experiences I've had because of the commitment of these young women from around the world to making Shakespeare their own."

This exercise was conceived and developed in several workshops with international directors and actors Joe Siracusa and Brian Morey, who helped found the Aurora Shakespeare People, of which Burroughs is executive director and co-founder as well. Aurora Shakespeare People is a group dedicated to making the dramatic literature of Shakespeare available to many kinds of audiences. Burroughs says the course also benefited greatly from the talent and imagination of teaching interns Amanda Mita and John Robbins, both Cornell doctoral students.

The class is part of Cornell's Summer College Programs for High School Students, which brings more than 800 high school students to Cornell each summer to take courses with Cornell faculty members, earn college credit and explore careers and academic majors. Students hail from across the United States and more than other 40 countries.