April Fools’ Day – though not a national holiday – has long been synonymous with practical jokes and hoaxes. One of the earliest mentions of a foolish April 1st is in the “Nun Priest’s Tale” of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. In the spirit of April Fools’ Day, here are a few NEH projects that celebrated authors known for their trickster characters.
“Shakespeare Uncovered,” is a six-episode series that takes a fresh approach at the study of Shakespeare by combining a close look at Elizabethan England with interviews and performance clips from the passionate actors inspired by Shakespeare’s plays today. The show received an America’s Media Makers production grant from the NEH, and was positively reviewed by both the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times.
The hour-long segments focus on the multitude of stories behind the production of Shakespeare’s works and feature actors such as Jeremy Irons, Jude Law, and Ethan Hawke. Funded by the Division of Public Programs, “Shakespeare Uncovered” also includs opinions and stories from local community productions. Full episodes are available on the show’s website, as are accompanying classroom materials.
The Mark Twain Project
Two of America’s favorite young tricksters – Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn – have been revered for decades through The Mark Twain Project. Started in the 1960s, the Project is an ongoing initiative to publish the definitive editions of Twain’s fiction, letters, and journalism. In the over forty years since its inception, the NEH has supported the Project through multiple grants from the Division of Research Programs.
To date, The Mark Twain Project has published 37 volumes of Twain text, and the complete first volume of Twain’s autobiography is now available online. As the project continues to expand online, it will offer wider access to Twain’s texts, editors’ notes, and newly discovered letters until there is a fully annotated digital edition of everything Mark Twain ever wrote.
A Chaucer Seminar
Last summer, Eastern Illinois University held a four-week seminar at the University of London centered on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Funded by the Division of Education Programs, the seminar explored the relevance of Chaucer’s ideas on artistry, philosophy, and emotion to modern society.