University takes center stage as Shakespeare debate heats up

English Professor and Shakespeare expert Eric Rasmussen weighs in on “Anonymous,” authors “The Shakespeare Thefts”

10/25/2011 - By: Claudene Wharton
Eric Rasmussen, English professor Internationally recognized Shakespeare scholar Eric Rasmussen, English professor and department chair at the University of Nevada, Reno College of Liberal Arts. Photo by Jean Dixon.

When Eric Rasmussen isn't in the classroom bringing Shakespeare to life for his students at the University of Nevada, Reno this week, you're likely to find him on the telephone, answering questions from reporters across the country, and around the globe.

The award-winning Shakespearean scholar, co-editor of "The Royal Shakespeare Company's Complete Works of William Shakespeare," is giving his take on the Roland Emmerich movie, "Anonymous," which premieres this week and theorizes that Shakespeare was a fraud who didn't author the works attributed to him. Rasmussen says he and more than 50 other top Shakespeare scholars, actors and directors responded to the theory depicted in the film, and the body of their debate has "systematically shown why every claim in the film is wrong."

Coinciding with the movie's release is Rasmussen's newest work on the Bard, "The Shakespeare Thefts: In Search of the First Folios," just published Oct. 11 by Palgrave Macmillan. And, Rasmussen is dramaturge for a production of "Hamlet" being performed in Original Pronunciation on the Nevada campus next month that is attracting international participation and interest.

Rasmussen's take on "Anonymous"

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust asked Rasmussen to participate in "60 Minutes With Shakespeare", where top Shakespeareans each talk for a minute and successfully dispel the Shakespeare Authorship Conspiracy Theory, according to Rasmussen. German film director Emmerich has often been criticized in media reports for scientific and historical inaccuracies, to which he has responded that he is "a filmmaker, not a scientist," who aims to simply provide enjoyable entertainment.

Rasmussen says Emmerich's new film "Anonymous" holds true to form. For instance, Rasmussen points out that the purported author of Shakespeare's plays in "Anonymous," Edward de Vere, died in 1605, whereas the author we know as Shakespeare continued writing for nearly another decade.

Rasmussen's "The Shakespeare Thefts"

According to reviewers, Rasmussen has been able to be both entertaining and scholarly in his new work, "The Shakespeare Thefts." As a professor at Nevada honored with the University's and the entire Nevada System of Higher Education System's top teaching awards, Rasmussen is known for his ability to make Shakespeare interesting and relevant to students today. Reviewers of his latest work say that Rasmussen has been able to do the same for his readers.

Christopher Schoppa of The Washington Post wrote: "This gripping narrative finds Rasmussen... tracking down every copy of what is arguably the most sought-after book on Earth - William Shakespeare's First Folio, published in 1623. Only 232 copies survive, and Rasmussen circles the globe to find them... and to speculate on the whereabouts of those that are missing... With him on the journey is a team of assistants called the First Folio hunters, whose presence lends the book a reality-TV tinge."

Rasmussen said the book took him a decade to research, and that he was greatly aided by his graduate students - the "First Folio hunters."

"My research team went on an extraordinary odyssey - from the U.S. to Japan to England to Switzerland," he said. "And along the way, we encountered thieves, reclusive librarians and eccentric billionaires, all lusting for one of the world's most valuable books."

"Hamlet" - a contemporary production in Original Pronunciation

Rasmussen, chair of the English department in the University's College of Liberal Arts, is key to creating a production of "Hamlet" opening on campus in November and anticipated to attract visitors from Hollywood's entertainment industry and even London. He is the dramaturge in this production of "Hamlet" created by a group of international Shakespearean scholars and the Nevada Repertory Company that will be performed in Original Pronunciation (OP). It is the first time "Hamlet" will be performed in OP since the early 1600s.

Preview performances of Nevada Repertory Company's Contemporary World Premiere of "Hamlet" in the Original Pronunciation are held Nov. 1-3, with all other performances scheduled between Nov. 4 and 20. The Nevada Repertory Company is part of the University's School of the Arts. For more information and tickets, go to School of the Arts.


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