MARQUETTE - Poring through hundreds of books in search of striking commentary on a Shakespeare play and compiling the results in a large volume that dissects each passage is a formidable task. It is also a scholarly honor that should keep Jim Schiffer occupied for the rest of his career.Schiffer is head of the Nor-them Michigan University English department. He has been appointed editor of the New Variorum edition of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, or What You Will. When completed several years from now, the volume will be published by the Modem Language Association. "The end result will be a moderated and threaded discussion of more than 400 years' worth of significant remarks or observations written by critics and editors," he said. "This book will include line-by-line commentary and essays on sources for the play, major characters, critical reception and stage history. Variorums tend to run between 700 and 1,000 pages. They make terrific research tools for students and scholars." The variorum tradition was established in the mid- 15th century. A new wave of updated editions covering Shakespeare's writing - approximately 38 in all - is in the works. Three of these contemporary versions have been published and most of the remaining projects have been assigned to editors. The last variorum to focus on Twelfth Night, which Schiffer would argue is The Bard's best comedy, was published in 1901. "There has been more written about the play in the century since that date than in the entire three centuries before," Schiffer added. "It is a huge task. It is a real honor to be asked to participate, but not everyone is willing to take on something like this. I'm actually taking over for William C. McAvoy of St. Louis University, who died after investing a number of years in the project. There is much more work to be done. Within the next year or so, I plan to recruit one or two associate editors." Schiffer was appointed by a committee of scholars affiliated with the MLA. He attributes the selection to essays he has published on the play and Shakespeare poems, in addition to his previous experience editing a collection of essays on Shakespeare's Sonnets. During his research on the latter, he frequently consulted the Sonnets Variorum. "I realized that a variorum is a lasting monument of scholarship with a life span of 100 years or more," he said. "The earlier volumes are still fascinating. I hope this appointment brings honor to the English department and to the university. There will be opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to assist with the research. This project will definitely keep me busy for a number of years."
Broadcasters - Variorum is pronounced Vare-ee-OR-um.