Shakespeare queues up with the Q in series

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The Creative Matters lecture series will bring a new way to look at Shakespeare with a talk today with Miriam Gilbert and the Q Brothers.

By Claire Dietz

claire-dietz@uiowa.edu

With the First Folio at the Main Library, the Creative Matters lecture series wants to take this opportunity to see the Folio in a new light: through hip-hop.

The lecture, which features University of Iowa Professor Emerita Miriam Gilbert, a renowned Shakespeare scholar, and Chicago-based Q Brothers, known for the hip-hop adaptations of Shakespeare plays, will take place on at 5:30 p.m. today in Theater Building Mabie Theater. Organizers hope that the discussion will help to address the importance of bridging interdisciplinary gaps by looking at what binds them together.

Professor David Gier, one of the series’ organizers and the director of the School of Music, was “stunned and pleased with how the first year” of the series went, but he wanted to challenge himself to make things even better.

For this lecture in particular, Gier said, he hoped to prompt a conversation about the work of Shakespeare and its timelessness.

In the wake of the success of Hamilton, Gier noted there seems to be an emphasis on reinterpreting classical narratives through hip-hop, something he thought the Q Brothers have accomplished successfully for years.

When asked why Shakespeare should be seen through the lens of hip-hop, JQ, the creative and musical director behind the Q Brothers, answered the question simply.

“To this question, we’ll respond with questions: Why not?” JQ asked. “Why did Shakespeare take Greek plays and turn them into iambic pentameter? What would happen if we stopped changing and growing?”

Gilbert sees what the group is doing as more than an attempt at making Shakespeare accessible to a wider audience. “They’re not just translating” Shakespeare, she said, but “creating a whole new language” from his work.

When working with actors in the Theater Department, Gilbert said, the group would sometimes have to reference old ’90s-era hip-hop beats and rhythms to help the actors connect with the project.

“They’re inventing a language, and the way they’re connecting it to is through rhythm,” Gilbert said. “Look at Shakespeare’s verse; it’s not about rhyme, but rhythm, and they’re very conscious of that.”

For the Q Brothers, who begin the process with “a line for line translation into modern rhyme,” it is not an easy task to bring Shakespeare into the world of hip-hop.

“It doesn’t all happen at once; it all occurs over dozens of drafts that continue to change when we add hip-hop beats,” JQ said. “We begin to reimagine the world and the characters, and once we start settling into an idea, we rewrite the rhymes to fit in that setting and transform characters.”

For Gier, these sorts of collaborative discussions are about discovering and discussing the “human impulse to create and the human impulse to discover.”

“The through line, the commonality, is that everyone on campus shares [these impulses],” Gier said. “Whether they’re doing biomedical research, or writing a novel these things — in some shape or form — are the expressions of a deeply human impulse to explore and push boundaries.”

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