PhD proposal

This is where I began my research – although I soon realised that this proposal was actually far too ‘big’ in its scope!  It would be the equivalent of three PhDs… I’m now looking at three key experimental appropriations from three different configurations of ‘the East’, focussing on ideology and issues around spectatorship. 

In 1995, on vacation from teaching in Mainland China, I sat in the Tokyo Globe as the Beijing People’s Art Theatre performed a modern dress, Mandarin Chinese adaptation of Hamlet.  Afterwards, I asked: how was it that the tale of a semi-mythical Norse prince from early mediaeval Europe came, through the prism of Shakespeare’s play and its sixteenth century anxieties, to be representative of the ‘form and pressure’ of urban Chinese experience under Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms? 

In this thesis I propose to answer this by following the precedent of Hulme/Sherman’s work on The Tempest (2000), as I explore Hamlet’s travels across time and place. Charting these three stops on its ‘world tour’, I will look at how each is significant in terms of global/local appropriation, current terms which also echo Renaissance concepts of transformation.  To do this I will bring together in one study three unusually diverse approaches to this canonical play: the relationship of texts to sources, new historicist readings of contemporary contexts, and its intercultural appropriations in a post-colonial world. I will examine the complex mediation between these different renderings, their specific historical/cultural moment and how their storytellers ‘convert the substance, or Riches, of an other Poet, to his own use,’ like bees changing pollen into honey (Ben Jonson, 1641, recalling Italy’s Petrarch). 

As each rendering was produced during a time of theological or ideological change in its given society, I will analyse the textual and thematic transformations that take place due to its refraction through a worldview in flux.  Beginning with its place of origin in Norse legend, how are the changes in political/social/linguistic identities, as Denmark turns its face from Valhalla to Rome, expressed in Saxo’s Deeds of the Danes? To what extent is the transformation of national and religious identity reflected four centuries later in its most famous incarnation on the English stage, when Roman Catholic Europe falls into schism? Finally, what do late 20C/early 21C stage and screen adaptations in post-Mao China, which allegorise that country’s ideological reformations, tell us about intercultural performance practitioners’ conversion of material for their ‘own use’ today?

It is this engagement with the trauma that is experienced by a community when established beliefs are overthrown that allows Hamlet to continue to speak across different eras and geographic boundaries to an ever uncertain world.

In preparation for this thesis I have devised a set of textual questions for each section, based on my reading.  I have also contacted academics in the field for advice and received feedback, including from my proposed supervisor, William Sherman, Matthew Townend (CMS) and Li Ruru (Leeds University Centre for East Asian Studies).

Stop 1:

Why did national historian Saxo write his version of Amleth in the world language of Latin, not Norse?  What was lost in translation, in linguistic links to a pre-Christian Danish worldview, and what was gained, through engaging with a globalised genre of Romanised history?  Did this cultural homogenisation make it accessible to the later French humanist, Belleforest, despite Saxo’s acceptance of pagan Blood Revenge? (Gollancz, 1926/68; Davidson 1979, 1980; Bullough 1957-75)

Stop 2:

Hibbard (1987) argues: ‘Shakespeare added to [Belleforest’s] complexity by transferring the French writer’s reservations about some of his hero’s actions to that hero himself’. How is Shakespeare’s appropriation entering Renaissance literary/theatrical dialectics on revenge ethics?  How do localised stage conventions (ghosts, clowns, Vice) allow Shakespeare to mediate the religious/political pressures of his age? Although Hamlet is located in C11 Denmark, in what way is the sense of minds divided from reason, as old certainties are usurped, reflecting England’s spiritual turmoil during the religious flux of the Reformation? (Greenblatt 2001; de Grazia 2007)

Stop 3:

Li (2003) claims that Hamlet’s history in China reflects modern China’s history.  What happens when a play, speaking of faith issues to its European audience, transforms into an atheist, East Asian, avant-garde expression of the breakdown of moral oppositions as society embraces materialism?  Furthermore, why would C21filmmakers of Chinese comedies choose Hamlet to venture into the global film market, deliberately Orientalising it as a costume martial arts drama? (Huang 2006; Lin 1989, revived 1994, 2008; Feng 2008)

 

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