Local and Global Myths in Shakespearean Performance
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Local and Global Myths in Shakespearean Performance

Aneta Mancewicz, Alexa Alice Joubin, Aneta Mancewicz, Alexa Alice Joubin

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Local and Global Myths in Shakespearean Performance

Aneta Mancewicz, Alexa Alice Joubin, Aneta Mancewicz, Alexa Alice Joubin

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This collection of scholarly essays offers a new understanding of local and global myths that have been constructed around Shakespeare in theatre, cinema, and television from the nineteenth century to the present. Drawing on a definition of myth as a powerful ideological narrative, Local and Global Myths in Shakespearean Performance examines historical, political, and cultural conditions of Shakespearean performances in Europe, Asia, and North and South America. The first part of this volume offers a theoretical introduction to Shakespeare as myth from a twenty-first century perspective. The second part critically evaluates myths of linguistic transcendence, authenticity, and universality within broader European, neo-liberal, and post-colonial contexts. The study of local identities and global icons in the third part uncovers dynamic relationships between regional, national, and transnational myths of Shakespeare. The fourth part revises persistent narratives concerning a political potential of Shakespeare's plays in communist and post-communist countries. Finally, part five explores the influence of commercial and popular culture on Shakespeare myths. Michael Dobson's Afterword concludes the volume by locating Shakespeare within classical mythology and contemporary concerns.

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© The Author(s) 2018
Aneta Mancewicz and Alexa Alice Joubin (eds.)Local and Global Myths in Shakespearean PerformanceReproducing Shakespearehttps://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-89851-3_1
Begin Abstract

1. Introduction

Alexa Alice Joubin1 and Aneta Mancewicz2
George Washington University, Washington, DC, USA
University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK
Alexa Alice Joubin (Corresponding author)
Aneta Mancewicz
End Abstract
Contradictory myths are the foundation to many conversations about Shakespeare today. What makes Shakespeare widely “useful”—if not appreciated—in so many different cultural contexts? Did Shakespeare’s works go global because of their intrinsic aesthetic values, or are his works demonstrably better than those of other nation’s poets by virtue of their circulation? What values and ideas does Shakespeare’s cultural work sustain or undermine?

Global Shakespeare as Myth

Myths give the airy nothing of ideologies a local habitation. Criticism of global Shakespeare over the past decade has considered at length what is local, metropolitan, racialized, marketable, and cosmopolitan about performances that pass through various historical, digital, and cultural spaces (Orkin 2005; Massai 2006; Thompson 2013; Burnett 2013). What is missing is theorization of the canon’s perceived mythical capacity that fuels global circulations of Shakespeare. The phenomenon of global Shakespeare is fuelled by the myth of the canon’s utilitarian value. We can better grasp the significance of global Shakespeare by understanding the cultural logic of the production and consumption of these myths—often articulated in the form of journalistic adoration of universal aesthetics.
In Graham Holderness’s 1988 cultural materialist approach to the making of one specific myth about Shakespeare—bardolatry and contested biographies of the poet—he defines myth as a “real and powerful form of human consciousness” rather than some “non-existent ideological conjuring-trick.” Based on partial truths, myth is a particular narrative structure serving a particular social function. He compares the figure of Shakespeare to legendary “cultural heroes.” All societies, however they are organized, have myths. Some myths share common structural characteristics. In Holderness’s analysis of the factors that enabled the mythologization of Shakespeare as a cultural hero, he observes that the mystery of identity is in fact the primary catalyst of hagiographic narrative patterns: the son of a Stratford glove maker becomes “England’s greatest poet.” Folklore figures are often not the persons they appear to be. They derive their mythical power from their hidden identity and parentage. Debates about authorship further solidify the mythologized status of Shakespeare. Holderness suggests that we are missing the point if we focus on verifiable evidence of Shakespeare’s biography. “Historical details were merely narrative properties” that mythologize Shakespeare as a cultural hero. Holderness argues that it is the “institutions of bardolatry and quasi-religious worship” that are holding the Shakespeare myth in place (1988a, 10–11).
Nearly three decades after the publication of Holderness’s The Shakespeare Myth, we are in need of a broader understanding of the Shakespeare myth in transnational contexts and particularly in performances. This volume takes up where Holderness left off. In her 1998 book, The Shakespeare Trade, Barbara Hodgdon started paying attention to the “ideological contours of the Shakespeare myth” and the ways in which this myth sustains “cultural consensus” (194). Following Holderness, Hodgdon’s book attends to phenomena of collector’s fetishes. Amateur and professional collectors are drawn to a range of representations of the figure of Shakespeare, such as “Shakespeare kitsch” and mass market souvenirs. Twenty years on, at this point in history, “Shakespeare” is associated not only with bardolatry and a national poet’s biography but also with performances—the primary venue where the general public encounters Shakespeare. Supporting these performances are liberal political ideologies that work against bardolatry and yet condone other aspects of the Shakespeare myth. When the myth of Shakespeare is mentioned, the focus seems to be, even in 2009, still on the figure of Shakespeare rather than larger performance cultures (Hackett 2009, 4–5). The current myth about Shakespeare is global in nature, and it draws upon celebrity culture instead of mystified biographies, and upon the cultural value of worldwide locations instead of just Stratford-upon-Avon. This collection offers new perspectives on materials that were not discussed in Holderness’s book, notably, the wide range of uses of a global Shakespeare myth on stage and on screen.
Useful here is Northrop Frye’s theory that myth consists of recognizable types of story serving an aesthetic function, “a story in which some of the chief characters are 
 beings larger in power than humanity.” He further theorizes that this narrative is “very seldom located in [factual] history” but is often used as “allegories of morality” (1961, 597 and 599). Within the history of global performances of Shakespeare, the perceived moral authority of the Shakespearean canon has led to an impression that the works are both period specific and beyond history (“timeless”). The works are seen to be able to empower individuals as well as threaten the status quo.
For example, some sponsors and patrons were outraged by Gregg Henry’s Trump-like Julius Caesar and Tina Benko’s Calpurnia with an eastern European accent in Oskar Eustis’s production for Public Theatre in New York (June 2017). Debates ensued on the roles of art and politics. The mythical status of Shakespeare’s plays—namely, public investment in this specific genre of fiction—provoked strong reactions from all sides. Delta Air Lines and Bank of America, two major corporate sponsors, withdrew their support on account of what conservative news outlets and some audiences deemed offensive. Some critics believed that Eustis’s production promoted violence against politicians. This incident demonstrates that the myth of Shakespeare’s moral authority has enabled comparisons of characters and motifs in his plays to our contemporary political figures. Indeed, throughout the 2016 US presidential campaigns, critics from both camps drew comparisons between candidates and Shakespearean characters ranging from Richard III to King Lear. Increased awareness and scrutiny of Shakespeare’s power as motivational material may be one reason why—despite the fact that Caesar has historically been likened to multiple political leaders including Obama—Public Theatre’s production became a lightning rod. Censorship of this particular production of Julius Caesar reveals more about corporate America’s anxiety about free speech and the mythical power of the play than about the ability of the performance to incite violence or even political assassination.
Julius Caesar holds a special place in American and world politics. The play is frequently taught in American public schools and, in other instances, the play has been used to discuss republicanism. John Wilkes Booth is notorious for having performed in Julius Caesar in New York shortly before he assassinated Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC, during a performance of Tom Taylor’s farce Our American Cousin. The incident itself has been mythologized, linking the power of art to political power.
Contemporary myths about Shakespeare have been jointly created by educators, scholars, practitioners, administrators, funders, artists, spectators, and readers. The myth of universality is built upon a discursive move that presupposes unchanging meanings of the same story to different cultures, an assumption that the plays are always locally relevant in the same way in aesthetic, moral, and political terms. The idea of universality is often backed by statistics (as many things are now) and not just literary merits. The 2012 World Shakespeare Festival, part of the Cultural Olympiad, featured 69 international productions, 263 amateur shows, 28 digital commissions and films throughout the UK. The Royal Shakespeare Company , the principal organizer, claimed that the festival reached “more than 1.8 million people” (2016). Shakespeare’s name itself has been used to signify high culture. In Taipei, Taiwan, there is a luxury apartment complex named after Shakespeare. In Beijing, an English language school is named Shakespeare, with “to be or not to be” as their slogan. There are also bridal shops and wedding services throughout East Asia named Shakespeare. In Anglophone countries, politicians quote Shakespeare as if it were a gentleman’s calling card.
More recently, 2016 saw an unprecedented number of commemorative activities across the globe to mark the quartercentenary of Shakespeare’s death. The significance of the year 2016 has inspired projects that are dedicated solely to activities during that year, including the London-centric Shakespeare400, a consortium of performances, exhibitions, and events coordinated by King’s College London to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, and the more globally minded Performance Shakespeare 2016, a digital project to capture performances of Shakespeare worldwide from January 1 to December 31, 2016. Oxford University Press reissued Israel Gollancz’s A Book of Homage to Shakespeare (originally published on April 23, 1916), edited and introduced by Gordon McMullan, on the occasion of the 2016 centenary. Gollancz appealed to “Shakespeare’s own kindred, whatsoe’er their speech,” suggesting that Shakespeare, in 1916, was both a poet of British Empire and a playwright of the world despite the changing global order.
To put the 2016 festivities around Shakespeare in context, it is useful to recall that 2016 marks the 500th anniversary of Thomas More’s Utopia, but there were no large-scale international commemorative events. King’s College London hosted a small exhibition, which made reference to most people’s selective attentiveness to Shakespeare and not other writers. There are exceptions, though. Fuelled by the global Shakespeare myth, 2016 as a landmark year not only brought the Shakespearean canon into the public consciousness but also enabled the mythologization of other cultural figures, including Tang Xianzu and Cervantes, both of whom passed away in the same year as Shakespeare, 1616. Without an ideological investment in the myth about Shakespeare, the anniversaries of Tang and Cervantes most likely would not have received any attention outside of select local communities such as Linchuan in China’s Jiangxi province, the birthplace of Tang. Both Tang and Shakespeare have a special place within their national literary histories. Their names are evoked in festival planners’ coordinated efforts to construct dreams about cultural and literary universalism in a post-national space. These dreams are based on commodified, cosmopolitan commemoration (Joubin 2017). The myth of Shakespeare is used by the Chinese embassy in the UK to generate visions of a global Tang Xianzu and simultaneously cement a well-established imaginary of a global Shakespeare. Festival planners in 2016 did not question the valence of comparison between the two playwrights. The coincidental effort to commemorate the playwrights and their cultures is a manifestation of a current consensus that exists in the UK and China about the economic utility of soft power. Shakespeare-inspired events around the world suggest that Shakespeare functions as the spokesperson for humanity and liaison for cultural diplomacy.
Some Shakespearean plays, such as Hamlet , have always already begun even before the curtain is raised. In Dominic Dromgoole’s Hamlet Globe to Globe, which chronicles the tour of his production to 197 countries in two years, the former artistic...

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APA 6 Citation

[author missing]. (2018). Local and Global Myths in Shakespearean Performance ([edition unavailable]). Springer International Publishing. Retrieved from https://www.perlego.com/book/3494552/local-and-global-myths-in-shakespearean-performance-pdf (Original work published 2018)

Chicago Citation

[author missing]. (2018) 2018. Local and Global Myths in Shakespearean Performance. [Edition unavailable]. Springer International Publishing. https://www.perlego.com/book/3494552/local-and-global-myths-in-shakespearean-performance-pdf.

Harvard Citation

[author missing] (2018) Local and Global Myths in Shakespearean Performance. [edition unavailable]. Springer International Publishing. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/3494552/local-and-global-myths-in-shakespearean-performance-pdf (Accessed: 15 October 2022).

MLA 7 Citation

[author missing]. Local and Global Myths in Shakespearean Performance. [edition unavailable]. Springer International Publishing, 2018. Web. 15 Oct. 2022.