Shakespearean hybridities: Appropriations, gestures, alternative realities


Conveners: Martin Procházka (Charles University, Czech Republic)

Panelists: Pavel Drábek (University of Hull, UK), Zoltán Márkus (Vassar College, USA),

Martin Procházka (Charles University, Czech Republic)


In his “Foreword” to the volume Philosophical Shakespeares (2000), Stanley Cavell points to Shakespeare’s “appropriability” as a potential explanation for his uniqueness.  For Cavell, “the idea of appropriability is not meant to prejudge the degree to which lines, scenes, plays may resist certain appropriations less or more than others;” instead, it helps in “assessing cultural position.”  The papers in this panel discuss Shakespeare not as an inherent attribute of any text or production but as a marker of “appropriability” resulting from a cultural consensus in every age.  Through the lens of the theoretical concept of hybridity, the proposed panel offers innovative contributions to our ongoing deliberations about author Shakespeare and his works. These contributions understand hybridity both ontologically, since no unmediated, authentic presence of Shakespeare’s works exists, as well as performatively, since these works function as “interfaces” facilitating cultural communication. Our contributions draw on recent works such as Shakespeare and the Ethics of Appropriation  and recent articles in the Journal Borrowers and Lenders and Multicultural Shakespeares,  but our proposed panel will argue that the potentiality of Shakespeare’s appropriations arises in the structural openness of Shakespeare’s works, whereas ethical implications are secondary, referring only to the impact of individual appropriations.

1/ Zoltán Márkus, “The Temporality of Shakespeare’s Hybridity”

With the aid of a specific (or idiosyncratic) understanding of the concept of appropriation that suggests appropriations are reciprocal manoeuvers of hybridization that negotiate and construct both their subjects and their objects at the same time, this contribution investigates Shakespeare as a cultural hybrid produced in various historical and cultural contexts. This paper accepts the view that Shakespeare’s works have no immediate, unmediated authentic presence; they are always already displaced.  At the same time, it proposes that temporal dimensions of Shakespearean appropriations remain crucial: the “originality” of Shakespeare’s plays rests in the (ongoing) history of these appropriations.  In this sense, Shakespeare’s originality is not an inherent feature of his plays but a retroactive and relational outcome of appropriating Shakespeare. By drawing on current philosophical debates about perdurantism versus endurantism as well as “polychronicity” versus “multitemporality,” this contribution aims at finding ways in which we can productively historicize the cultural hybrid we call Shakespeare.

2/ Pavel Drábek, “‘Look into the seeds of time’: Shakespearean Ruminations on the Hybrid States of Not-Being-Yet”

This paper arises from a fascination by the empty space in the theatre, which exists ever in a hybrid state of coming-into-being rather than static states that are.  This hybrid existence in the theatre is immaterial rather than material, and that on more than one level: fictional realities coming into existence during the play as well as, non-theatrically, pragmatic performative acts.  Drawing on theories of spaces and critical theory on performance and gesture, from Brook’s seminal Empty Space, through Lefebvre’s The Production of Space to social psychology of the self (Ross and Nisbett), this paper discusses the immaterial existence of Shakespearean characters and situations – from the metaphysical presence of characters that exist in a constant state of transition (eg. Iago as a non-character or Viola’s quest for who she is), through the dreamlike reality of a performance (“such stuff | As dreams are made on”) to the potentialities of “states unborn” that come into play as alternative realities.  The starting point for the paper is an antinominalist perspective – taking the states of hybridity and flux in Shakespeare’s plays as the principal position rather than fixed states.  The paper proposes shifting a perspective towards these hybrid states – “talk[ing] of dreams […] more inconstant than the wind” which lie at the core of Shakespeare’s theatre.

3/ Martin Procházka, “Early Modern Cultural Hybridity: Bartholmew Fair as a Heterotopia of Hamlet”

This contribution is a case study that offers a synthesis of the approaches presented in the previous two papers. Ben Jonson’s Bartholmew Fair is a unique case of an early appropriation of the hybrid and heterotopic potential of Shakespeare’s drama.  Confronting its poetic nature and features of popular culture with the crudeness of consumerism and emerging market economy, it fundamentally transforms important thematic and theatrical features of Hamlet: the Ghost and the Mousetrap. Using allegorical implications of a classical story of Damon and Pythias (and the Syracuse tyrant Dionysius), alluded to in Hamlet’s comment (3.2), and simultaneously transposing the play-within-the-play into a farcical, hybrid puppet show, Jonson’s travesty opens up the tragic plot of Hamlet and its themes of theatre as a revelation of truth and a vehicle of justice into a heterotopia, where some key political, moral and aesthetic problems of the day are “simultaneously represented, contested and inverted” (Foucault, “Of Other Spaces”).  The theatrical sign of this heterotopia, the puppet of the Ghost (Dionysius) points to the theoretical as well as practical problems of the time (spectrality, commodification and the contested status of theatre) and, paradoxically, inaugurates a modern utopian view of theatre as a force of social control, integration and harmonization.