Ralph Cohen, Doctor of Literature

“The play’s the thing” for Ralph Cohen, who for X years has sent trimmed-down, fast-paced performances of Shakespeare to the St. Lawrence campus as executive director/director of education of Shenandoah Shakespeare Express (SSE). Also a professor of English at James Madison University, he was a co-founder of SSE in 1988. He has twice guest-edited special teaching issues of Shakespeare Quarterly and has published articles on teaching

Shakespeare as well as on Shakespeare, Jonson, and Elizabethan staging, the latter being a hallmark of SSE productions. He has directed 12 professional productions of Shakespeare’s plays, as well as productions of other Elizabethan and Jacobean dramas.

But it is through SSE that he has had his broadest impact. “The educational goal of the SSE has been to eliminate ‘Shakes-fear’ for audiences of all cultural and academic backgrounds,” says the company’s Web site. To this end, SSE annually sends out two touring troupes, appropriately named “Elizabeth” and “James,” to high schools and colleges, nursing homes and prisons; to date they have reached 40 states and five foreign countries. Each summer SSE also sponsors a three-week residential camp for high school students.

From the tragic ambition of Macbeth to the joy of life in Twelfth Night, Shakespeare is at the core of the liberal arts because he addresses all that it means to be human. As we have applauded SSE’s annual sojourns on campus, we now applaud its founder and leader as we award him the honorary degree Doctor of Literature.