Sawing the Air Thus: American Sign Language Translations of Shakespeare and the Echoes of Rhetorical Gesture

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The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) signed in1990 states that "no individual may be discriminated against on the basis of disability." The creation of anti-discrimination laws did not, however, legislate community understanding and equality of access. Focusing on access for the Deaf community to Shakespeare in performance, I am interested in developing both a theoretical and practical document. This document will explore the seemingly disparate fields of Performance theory, Shakespeare studies, Sign language studies, and Deaf studies in order to formalize a structure for interpreting text to create a communal experience for both Deaf and Hearing audiences.

The virtuosity of Shakespeare makes his stories universal, enabling them to be translated into countless languages.  Signed languages, as a part of the translation studies of Shakespeare, are often considered insignificant to the field because the interpretation into ASL is as temporal as a performance or is perceived by some to be limited to a small community of understanding.  By formalizing a process of translation that uses elements of both ASL and gesture, not only does this research provide a structure for creating formal ASL translations, but reexamines the importance of rhetorical gesture in Shakespeare studies. 

I begin by providing an overview of my methodology and interdisciplinary approach to gesture, ASL, Shakespeare and performance theory.  Next, I examine a historical and theoretical framework for gesture in both the D/deaf and performance communities. I go on to discuss the use of gesture (rhetorical, performance, and sign language) in production through an analysis of sketches, charts, and embedded video.  Finally, I document my experiences as an interpreter in an original staging practices environment.  This documentation illustrates the uses of the previously discussed elements converging in practice.  This dissertation will serve as a first step towards practitioners, academics, and interpreters working together to fully interpret Shakespeare's texts and redefine the concept of access.