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English instructor incorporates five different language translations in “Othello”

Will Pewitt sitting on a stoolWhen it comes to thinking outside the box, William (Will) Pewitt is all for it.  
The University of North Florida English professor and Hicks Honors College faculty fellow, says he’s been thinking outside his box for most of his professional career and, wouldn’t have it any other way.   
“I’m always imagining something different and unique like global cultures and narratives not easily found or taught in mainstream America,” Pewitt said.  
One of those unique global cultures Pewitt took an interest in is Arabic. Pewitt has had an interest in studying historical influences between Middle East and French society in the early modern period, something he considers studying if he were to return to graduate school. “But, as someone with a background in creative writing, I decided to take bits of Arabic poetry that I love, go back to the sources and translate into English,” Pewitt said. “It’s such gratifying work."
Mostly self-taught, the Austin, Texas native has translated written Arabic poetry over the past eight years to “give himself more language efficacy.” He’s currently working on a book translating classical Arabic poetry written by Andalusian women who lived and wrote poetry more than 1,000 years ago.  
Gratifying and useful, as Pewitt is now putting his Arabic translation skills to good use, directing this year’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s iconic tragedy, “Othello.” In addition to Arabic, the rendition incorporates four other languages – English, Italian, Spanish and Greek. 
Organized by the English department, the play features students, representing various majors, who are members of UNF Shakespeare, along with alumni and others. The play makes its debut today at MOCA Jacksonville.
“This play is known as Shakespeare’s most cross-cultural play, so it was a natural to incorporate the linguistic diversity,” said Pewitt. “We started working on this adaptation of the play in January, with the help of translators from each of the languages to ensure the language is true and authentic when spoken by the actors. It’s one of the many threads we’ve been working on to hold onto the integrity of the work. By far, this play has been the most challenging of the five I’ve worked on at UNF,” Pewitt said.
Growing up with an appreciation for the arts
An instructor for five of his 12 years at UNF, Pewitt has taught a variety of classes and currently teaches creative writing, literature courses, a theatre class and of course, the Shakespeare class. He also teaches an experiential learning course he designed for first-year Hicks Honors students. In addition, he serves as an advisor for the biannual Talon Review, UNF’s literary student journal and works with students submitting essays for Constitution Review.
He readily admits, that while he grew up in a family that appreciated the arts, he didn’t grow up with a great affinity to studying Shakespeare and that he “came about” it approximately 10 years ago in his 30s, after rereading one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known plays, the Roman tragedy, “Coriolanus.”
“I’m sure maturity had a lot to do with it, but after I reread ‘Coriolanus,’ it was like reading Shakespeare for the first time,” Pewitt said. “I was blown away. I stepped into the play and read the words for the words. It opened up a whole new level of appreciation for the literary work and it made me realize how much of this Shakespearean poetic beauty resonates with our society today.”
After this Shakespearean awakening, Pewitt said he was hooked and tries to share that passion with his students.  
“With ‘Othello’ in particular, it’s refreshing to see the energy from the students – the cast and crew,” Pewitt said. “Watching them mesh together on this project, hone the art they are learning and witnessing the enthusiasm they have for working with each other is satisfying.”
“That, along with a relatively short list of things we can do better next time, is what I consider a success.”
NAME: William (Will) Pewitt
TITLE/DEPARTMENT: Professor, Department of English, College of Arts and Sciences; Faculty Fellow, Hicks Honors College
IF NOT TEACHING, WHAT? Coaching high school basketball
FAVORITE PERSON(S) TO HANG WITH: My toddler and wife 
HOMETOWN: Austin, Tex.
The UNF Shakespeare presents a multilingual adaptation of William Shakespeare’s tragedy “Othello.” Learn more, including times, dates and locations of performances.