Thea Buckley (The Shakespeare Institute and the RSC, UK)
Paul Hamilton, Independent scholar (USA)
Timo Uotinen (Royal Holloway, UK)
In The Winter’s Tale, Shakespeare interchanges Bohemia and Sicilia, recreating the globe to suit his dramatic purpose. This seminar examines similar rewritings, inviting papers that focus on dramatic, authorial, and journalistic uses of Shakespeare to mythologize and rewrite history, geography, and identity. In times of crisis, Shakespeare is often portrayed as a warrior of archetypal wisdom the better to valorize and endorse one’s own side.
By definition, crisis is a time of power politics and challenges to entrenched notions of centrality, homogeneity, and authority. This seminar is intentionally topical, given the late use of Shakespeare as a political mouthpiece during Brexit, deployed as a mythical icon and cultural authority to draw political battle lines, reconfigure history, and redefine identities. The appropriation of Shakespeare as ghostwriter is an ongoing phenomenon that requires a new critical analysis in an era where the boundaries within and between Europe and the world are becoming increasingly blurred.
Shakespeare’s polyvocal works in text, performance, and new media can also serve a revolutionary purpose, used as a political weapon to dethrone opponents or destabilize authority in nations where his works have been imported or imposed across borders during times of transition. In the recent television series Deutschland 83, Shakespeare’s works are impounded during a cross-border transit between the crumbling East and West; colonial interpretations have reconstructed Shakespeare’s works to create or consolidate new nationalistic identities and ideological boundaries and retake control of the discourse.
In their flexibility, Shakespeare’s works can serve both to reinforce or to rupture the fixity of structures and histories that have hitherto supported particular national agendas. The works’ preoccupation with the latent potential of identity and upheaval makes Shakespeare continually relevant to a presentist re-examination of ourselves and our political and geographical unions.
Suggested areas of interest:
- How have representations of Shakespeare in text and performance reflected different situations of crisis, whether religious, economic, political, or other?
- Can mythology be considered an attempt to escape economic reality, as Roland Barthes suggests?
- Historic revisions or omissions of the Shakespearean text have served political positioning – e.g., Laurence Olivier’s removal of the martial role of Fortinbras in his filmic Hamlet – how has this practice affected the adaptation and/or critical reception of Shakespeare?
- Is there such a thing as a Shakespeare lexicon, shorthand, or set of ‘mythemes’ that has a ‘self-evident’ cultural authority?
- Can we unpick the dialectical appropriation of Shakespeare as nationalist/anti-nationalist symbol? In what contexts does this occur, what are the assumptions, and is it contingent on tangential representations of a martial appeal to masculinity via rousing ‘ countrymen’?
- Is Bardolatry a province of the High/Low/Right/Left? Where does ‘Everyman Shakespeare’ enter? Has Shakespeare outgrown narrower concepts of Anglocentricity?
- Has Shakespeare become a myth used across ideological fault lines to solidify or pry open viewpoints at critical junctures?