Office Hours: Susan Cerasano

Kerry Houston

It has been a hectic, yet rewarding, past few years for Colgate’s Susan Cerasano, the Edgar W.B. Fairchild Professor of Literature. Two and a half years ago, Professor Cerasano was approached by a Vice President of W.W. Norton & Company, the largest independent book publishing company in the country, and asked to serve as the editor for the Norton Critical Edition of William Shakespeare’sJulius Caesar.” Cerasano, who is interested in early modern drama and theatre history with an emphasis on archival research, accepted Norton’s contract and thus began the complex process of editing “Julius Caesar.”

Since the 1970’s, Norton Critical Editions have been frequently assigned in university lecture courses and generally read by those desiring a detailed introduction to a play, novel or poem. Such editions offer a thorough account of the particular literary work, including a comprehensive introduction to the text followed by a suite of critical readings that complement it.

The first step of the editing process required Cerasano to compare early texts of the play to more modern ones. This developed into the next steps of annotating the play to provide beneficial contextual notes, followed by researching the critical history and production history of “Julius Caesar.” Cerasano also researched the illustrations for the book.

The task of “source study” was of especially great interest to Cerasano, who enjoyed studying the historical context of the original publication of “Julius Caesar”and observing what Shakespeare had at his disposal while writing the play.

“The conspiracy at [the play’s] center never goes out of date,” Cerasano said. She was immediately fascinated by the countless intriguing elements of   “Julius Caesar,” notably its many links to contemporary times.

Cerasano considers her primary goal in editing such texts to be making the past come alive so modern readers can see the value of the work. For Cerasano, the greatest challenge of the editing process involved reading literary criticism of the play for sifting through 200 years of the best literary critics and Julius Caesar’s rich history of production commentary was a very complicated assignment.

“Julius Caesar” has been just one of Cerasano’s many recent projects. In early November, Cerasano published a co-edited collection of essays on early manuscript studies entitled “In the Prayse of Writing: Early Modern Manuscript Studies.” In addition, Cerasano was just recently notified that The Oxford Handbook of Early Modern Theatre, an edited collection published in November 2011 to which she had contributed an essay on theatrical economics, was awarded the Elizabeth Dietz Memorial Award that celebrates the best book published in early modern studies.

Professor Cerasano is also excited for her many other plans on the horizon. January 2013 will mark the completion of her third book, an edition of a diary and an account book written by the Renaissance actor and theatre entrepreneur Edward Alleyn.  The diary will relate five years of Alleyn’s life in great detail and is expected to be published by the Oxford University Press in 2014.

This June, Cerasano will attend a plenary lecture at the American Shakespeare Center’s Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton, Virginia and deliver the keynote address entitled “Christopher Marlowe in his Playhouse.”

Contact Kerry Houston at [email protected]