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03rd July 2024 Ana Bradley (2023, English)

Former Visiting Fellow named Director of the Folger Shakespeare Library

Professor Farah Karim-Cooper, former Visiting Fellow at Exeter College and current Professor of Shakespeare at King’s College London, has been appointed Director at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC. She will succeed Michael Witmore as head of the 92-year-old institution, which facilitates research, participation, and creativity through the world’s largest Shakespeare collection, in October this year.

Professor Karim-Cooper was selected for the role after a ten-month international search by Folger’s Board of Governors. D. Jarrett Arp, Chair of the Board, praised Professor Karim-Cooper’s ‘deep, diversified track record and experiences, which traverse the world of Shakespeare studies’. Through her authorship of extensive publications, as well as her influence in various anti-racist Shakespeare schemes, and her job as Director of Education at Shakespeare’s Globe, Professor Karim-Cooper has certainly been involved with a wide range of aspects of Shakespeare studies.

Mr Arp also writes that ‘[Professor Karim-Cooper’s] work has uniquely situated her to consider the role of humanities in today’s world.’ The application of Shakespeare to the modern-day is a recurring theme in Professor Karim-Cooper’s work. In 2022/3, she was a Visiting Fellow at Exeter College, where she collaborated with Professor Nandini Das, Tutorial Fellow in English at Exeter and Professor of Early Modern Literature and Culture, on an inquiry into the future directions of race and identity in early modern drama. During this time Professor Karim-Cooper also published The Great White Bard: How to Love Shakespeare While Talking About Race (2023). The study was named top book of the year by Time magazine, NPR, and The New Yorker. The Guardian described it as an ‘inspiring analysis’, writing that, despite Shakespeare’s association with Englishness, it restores him as a ‘playwright for all’. In her position at Folger, Professor Karim-Cooper will be ideally situated to reconcile Shakespeare’s Englishness with his global influence. She comments that Shakespeare ‘often challenges us to hold two contradictory views simultaneously—it was how his mind worked’.

Modern-day productions of Shakespeare often highlight these contradictions. Ola Ince’s recent production of Othello, for example, recasts the play in a racially hostile New Scotland Yard police force, yet, in retaining Othello’s original dialogue, it remains faithful to the play. Similarly, Tracy-Ann Obermann’s production of The Merchant of Venice transported the audience to 1936, when protestors opposing Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists came up against the police in the Battle of Cable Street. In a modern world that is becoming increasingly polarised, the ability to see classic works such as Shakespeare’s with Professor Karim-Cooper’s double-lens becomes vitally important.

Professor Karim-Cooper’s works also include Cosmetics in Shakespearean and Renaissance Drama (2006) and The Hand on the Shakespearean Stage: Gesture, Touch, and the Spectacle of Dismemberment (2016). Her diverse interest in Shakespearean studies and her excitement to forge ‘new ways to demonstrate how Shakespeare’s work speaks to our moment’ highlight the dynamism that she will bring to her role as Director of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

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