It’s coming home, it’s coming home, Football’s Shakespeare’s coming home!
As part of the activities around the Cultural Olympiad in the run-up to the London Olympics, the RSC and Shakespeare’s Globe are hosting the World Shakespeare Festival. It’s one of those rare occasions when both companies acknowledge that Shakespeare exists significantly beyond these shores, with the RSC inviting or commissioning productions from major companies across the globe to perform in Stratford, and with the Globe putting on the highly ambitious Globe to Globe festival in which, during the course of about eight weeks, they will host 37 plays in 37 languages from Juba Arabic to Mandarin AND Cantonese Chinese to British Sign Language. The tagline of the Globe’s festival is ‘Shakespeare’s Coming Home’, in a nod to Britpop culture and Skinner and Baddiel/Three Lions’s Euro ’96 football anthem – which basically concludes that everywhere else is now better at football than ‘us’. This is very, very funny, of course, but I imagine that the irony will be completely lost on anyone from anywhere else and it will be (mis?)read as an Anglocentric claim to the ownership of Shakespeare!
I’m taking my 16 year-old daughter, who is studying the star-crossed lovers for GCSE, to see Romeo and Juliet in Bagdad. This usually elicits the concerned response from people of ‘Isn’t that a bit dangerous?’ Because I am the sort of person who would take her to see Romeo and Juliet in Bagdad, of course, in the middle of the school term. I clarify that it’s the name of this particular appropriation, and that it is on at the very safe Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, in Arabic with English surtitles. Then I have to explain what an appropriation is in this context to non-academic friends. Interestingly, it’s the academic friends who tend to ask, ‘So is it still Shakespeare?’
It’s only in recent years that Anglo-American scholarship has caught onto several hundred years of Shakespeare’s reconfiguration ‘outside’ of the UK/US tradition and it has been at times a painful realisation of ‘our’ continuing imperialising frame of mind in relation to who is the proprietor of culture. Just look at those terms – ‘outside’ and ‘our’ make presumptions about the centre and the periphery or ‘them’ and ‘us’ that if we fully unpack are deeply problematic. Dennis Kennedy’s Foreign Shakespeare, coming just three years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, grew from his interest in the interplay between European scenography and ideology. Collecting together a range of essays which explored primarily Western and Eastern European appropriations, it noted that this was only part of the story, pointing further East for future scholarship. Many collections have since put forward post-colonial perspectives. Then, as the People’s Republic of China has come increasingly into focus for the Western world, so has what it’s done with Shakespeare, explored through the deeply personal work of Li Ruru in Shashabiya: Staging Shakespeare in China and a more masculine tome in the style of the western academy in Alex C Y Huang’s Chinese Shakespeares. Huang’s book also deals with Chinese Shakespeares beyond the Mainland. As the Western focus shifts again in universities and festivals, Margaret Litvin’s Hamlet’s Arab Journey is more than timely (See also her blog Shakespeare in the Arab World) The work of Li, Huang and Litvin all combine scholarly innovation and integrity with lively storytelling, which is primarily why their monographs have attracted the attention of scholars and practitioners. Their sites of interest also correspond with the zeitgeist, however. Nicoleta Cinpoes’s excellent Hamlet in Romania is not anywhere near as well-known, arriving 20 years too late, perhaps. However, the city of Craiova in Western Romania doesn’t need to host the Olympics to puts on an international Shakespeare Festival. It does this every two years, bringing major productions from as far afield as Japan, the US, Germany and China to its city’s theatre.
I’m very excited that I’m going to a number of the Globe to Globe productions: Richard II from Palestine, a Polish Macbeth and the Lituanian Hamlet, the National Theatre of China’s Richard III, and an underground Bellarussian King Lear. I’m gutted that I can’t make the Israeli Merchant of Venice or the Korean Dream, but my train tickets from York to London are costing me more than the performances, my civil partner is mumbling that she may as well have married a man, and my kids are beginning to forget who I am…
I’ve already attended three Globe Study Days, It is the East, which explored the ‘use’of Shakespeare in the societies of three very different, but significant, concepts of the East to a Western mind. The Globe is and always has been more politicized than the RSC at some levels and what is implicit in this particular series is that Shakespeare – the national Bard, the only author who has to be taught as part of the national curriculum, the icon of Western culture – belongs to the West’s cultural and ideological Other.
These will be explored further in my next post.