Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Surveying the Land of Shakespeare

Peter Holland

In their own idiosyncratic ways, academic Shakespeare journals are a way of charting the history of the analysis of Shakespeare’s legacy. Shakespeare Survey, the journal I edit for Cambridge University Press, uses a distinctly uncommon form for the title of an academic journal. There isn’t, as far as I know, a Wordsworth Survey or Chaucer Survey. I often get e-mails which get the title wrong: Survey of Shakespeare, Shakespeare’s Survey and such like. But, for very nearly seventy years, Shakespeare Survey has been the leading UK journal for Shakespeare studies and, worldwide, its only rival is Shakespeare Quarterly, published by the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC. In 1948, when the very first volume appeared, it proudly announced on the title-page that it was ‘An Annual Survey of Shakespearian Study and Production’, while later dust-jackets described the journal as ‘a series of yearly volumes dealing with Shakespearian discovery, history, criticism  production over all the world’. At the start there were ‘correspondents’ listed from many countries, including much of Europe of course but also, more surprisingly, Argentina, Uruguay and Mexico and, strikingly (or perhaps not, given the date), not including Germany, home of the world’s oldest Shakespeare society, the Deutsche Shakespeare Gesellschaft, founded in 1864, the tercentenary of Shakespeare’s birth – the British Shakespeare Association is an invention of 2002.

It was remarkable that Allardyce Nicoll, Survey’s founding editor, should have chosen that dual focus, ‘study and production’, for the academic interest in Shakespeare in performance, both on his own stages and ever since, had barely begun. But great journals are always innovative and Survey has, equipped with the critic’s equivalent of a theodolite, been mapping the terrain of Shakespeare studies – and Shakespeare production – and then, over and over again, remapping it, as the contours endlessly shift, like a movement of tectonic plates so rapid as to be visible to the naked eye. In a brilliant passage in his autobiography, Ingmar Bergman describes King Lear as a country as he was rehearsing a production:

We equipped expeditions which with varying skill and success mapped a few heaths, a river, a few shores, a mountain, forests. All the countries of the world equipped expeditions; sometimes we came across one another on our wanderings and established in despair that what was an inland lake yesterday had turned into a mountain today. We drew our maps, commented and described, but nothing fitted.

I know just how he felt.

But one of the pleasures of editing Shakespeare Survey since 1999 has been watching the teams of surveyors making new discoveries and using new modes of study with which to find them. Book history and performance theory, reception studies and post-post-colonialism [sic], queer theory and globalization, the list of new explorers’ tools goes on and on. And of course our geographical spread is far wider than that 1948 list of ‘correspondents’, for Shakespeare is the ultimate global brand on drama and in literature and, now that the Globe is touring Hamlet to every country in the world, Shakespeare is not only ‘for all time’ but also ‘for all places’.


About The Author

Peter Holland

Peter Holland is McMeel Family Professor in Shakespeare Studies and Department Chair, Department of Film, Television and Theater at the University of Notre Dame....

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