Essays

Back in the USSR with Shakespeare:
The Special Section on Soviet Shakespeare in
The Shakespearean International Yearbook

By | May 18, 2021

In the 1930s, the Soviet Union (USSR) lauded Shakespeare as a prophetic playwright who, while writing in early modern England, foresaw the future revolutions and the eventual advent of socialism. Shakespeare studies and performance became an important part of the Soviet claims to cultural and moral authority, throughout the Stalinist period and beyond.

For example, in a 1942 letter recently discovered in the Folger Institutional Archives, Soviet scholars and theater practitioners argue that the Soviet state’s appreciation of Shakespeare identifies it as deserving of American assistance in the Second World War. Read More

The Arden Research Handbook of Shakespeare and Contemporary Performance

Performing Shakespeare in the Age of Networked and Digital Cultures

By | March 25, 2021

How has COVID-19 affected cultural and digital globalization? Performing Shakespeare is an act of mediation between characters and actors, creating channels between geocultural spaces and time periods. Adaptations accrue nuanced meanings as they move through physical and digital spaces. Theatre works and films gain cultural significance by paying homage to or remediating previous interpretations.

Global Shakespeares have been deployed to revitalize performance genres, resist colonial appendage, exemplify social reparation. How are culturally specific meanings dispersed and re-framed?

Here are a few examples that bear contrasting cultural coordinates and yet share important things in common.

Read More

One Husband Too Many

Five themes in Asian Shakespeare adaptations

By | February 17, 2021

Since the nineteenth century, stage and film directors have mounted hundreds of adaptations of Shakespeare drawn on East Asian motifs. In her new book, Shakespeare and East Asia, Alexa Alice Joubin explores five fascinating themes surrounding racial and gender dynamics. Gender roles in the play take on new meanings in translation, and familiar and unfamiliar accents expanded the characters’ racial identities. These adaptations break new ground in sound and spectacle. They serve as a vehicle for social reparation. They provide a forum where artists and audiences can grapple with the contemporary issues of racial and gender equality, including transgender identities, and they forge a new path for world cinema and theatre. You are cordially invited to join one of the book launches. Read More

Adaptation: The Journal of Literature on Screen Studies

Shakespeare and Social Justice

By | October 12, 2020

Many screen and stage adaptations of the classics are informed by a philosophical investment in literature’s reparative merit, a preconceived notion that performing the canon can make one a better person. Inspirational narratives, in particular, have instrumentalized the canon to serve socially reparative purposes.

Social recuperation of disabled figures loom large in adaptation, and many reparative adaptations tap into a curative quality of Shakespearean texts. When Shakespeare’s phrases or texts are quoted, even in fragments, they serve as an index of intelligence of the speaker. Governing the disability narrative is the trope about Shakespeare’s therapeutic value.

There are two strands of recuperative adaptations. The first is informed by the assumption that the dramatic situations exemplify moral universals. The second strand consists of adaptations that problematize heteronormativity and psychological universals in liberal humanist visions of the canon. This approach is self-conscious of deeply contextual meanings of the canon. As a result, it lends itself to the genres of parody, metatheatre, and metacinema. Read More

Arden Handbook of Contemporary Shakespeare Criticism

Five Things to Know about Global Shakespeare

By | October 12, 2020

Adaptations of the classics not only creates channels between geographic spaces but also connects different time periods. Performing Shakespeare in different languages opens up new pathways to some often glossed over textual cruxes in Anglophone traditions. Take, The Tempest, for example. What exactly do Prospero and Miranda teach Caliban? The word “language” is ambiguous in act 1 scene 2 (Caliban: “You taught me language …”). It is often taken to mean his master’s language (a symbol of oppression). But it can also mean rhetoric and political speech writing, a new tool for him to change the world order. One way to excavate the different layers of meanings within the play and in performances is to compare different stage and film versions from different parts of the world. Caliban’s word, “language,” is translated by Christoph Martin Wieland as redden, or “speech” in German. In Japanese, it is rendered as “human language”, as opposed to languages of the animal or computer language.

Global studies enable us to examine deceivingly harmonious images of Shakespeare. We can better understand global Shakespeare through the key concepts of race, gender, censorship and redaction, genre, and politics of reception. Read More

Ethics of Citing Shakespeare in a Global Context

By | November 16, 2019

Global Shakespeare can be studied through two interrelated concepts: performance as an act of citation and the ethics of citation. Appropriating the classics carries strong ethical implications. A crucial, ethical component of appropriation is one’s willingness to listen to and be subjected to the demands of others. These metaphorical citations create moments of self and mutual recognition. Seeing the others within is the first step toward seeing oneself in others’ eyes. The act of citation is founded upon the premise of one’s subjectivity, the subject who speaks, and the other’s voice that one is channeling, misrepresenting, or appropriating. Read More

Teaching King Lear in a Global Context

By | November 16, 2019

How might we engage with the “essence” of King Lear in a networked culture?  Juxtaposing the clips of the division-of-the-kingdom scene from different films allows us to reexamine our perceived ethical burden to explain Lear’s problems away. The scene in Peter Brook’s 1971 film is dominated by close-ups of Lear and other characters, framing Paul Scofield’s Lear as a solemn statue. Peter Brook’s 1962 RSC production and subsequent 1971 film of King Lear engages with the theme of ecocriticism through an apocalyptic mise-en-scène. Read More

Tang Xianzu and Shakespeare: Quartercentenary Commemorations

By | November 16, 2019

Cultural memory is actively constructed through embodied and political performances. Tang Xianzu and William Shakespeare, two “national poets” of unequal global stature, have recently become vehicles for British and Chinese cultural diplomacy and exchange during their quatercentenary in 2016. The culture of commemoration is a key factor in Tang’s and Shakespeare’s positions within world theatre. Performances of commemoration take a wide range of approaches from grass-root events to government-sponsored festivals. With a comparative scope that explores the afterlives of the two dramatists, this cluster of essays examines commemorative practices, the dynamics of artistic fame, comparability of different dramatic traditions, and transformations of performance styles in socio-historical contexts. Read More

Global Shakespeares in World Markets and Archives

By | October 28, 2018

Shakespeare is a local force to be reckoned with in the global marketplace and in digital and analog archives of collective memory. With the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth in 2014 and quatercentenary in 2016, there are several high-profile instances of global Shakespeare being tapped for its market value. The exchange value of Shakespeare is reflected in uses of Shakespearean themes and artifacts in appropriations, cultural diplomacy, and venues where nation states project soft power. There are no world markets without the proliferation of archives built on collective cultural memory. Conversely, there would be no archives without the cultural marketplace to validate that Shakespearean artifacts are archive-worthy in the first place. Read More

“To unpath’d waters, undream’d shores”: Shakespeare in the World

By | October 26, 2018

In the centuries since William Shakespeare’s death, numerous stage and, more recently, film and television adaptations of his work have emerged to inspire, comfort, and provoke audiences in far-flung corners of the globe. As early as 1619, for example, Hamlet was performed in colonial Indonesia to entertain European expatriates. In 1845, U.S. Army officers staged Othello in Corpus Christi, Texas, as a distraction from the run-up to the Mexican-American War. Read More

Global Shakespeare Criticism beyond the Nation-State

By | October 26, 2018

On a sunny afternoon in early June, 2015, in a rehearsal room at the University of Warwick, director Tim Supple was rehearsing a globally envisioned King Lear with a group of talented actors from Ukraine, France, Nigeria, South Korea, India, and other parts of the world. When the actress Hong Hye Yeon playing Kent lamented in an aside in act 1 scene 4 that ‘[i]f but as well I other accents borrow, / That can my speech defuse’ in Korean (commenting on her and Kent’s disguise as part of the character’s effort to serve and assist Lear), the Ukrainian Lear (Oksana) responded powerfully in Russian. Read More

Review of Richard III from the 2013 Bitola Shakespeare Festival

By | March 09, 2016

The expectant audience for the Bitola Festival’s Richard III had been brought up to speed by Henry VI Parts One and Three earlier in the week (the scheduled production of Part Two from Tirana was unable to come at the last moment). But even if they hadn’t seen these shows, spectators needn’t have worried. The National Theatre of China’s dazzling production made clear the narrative of Richard’s bloody rise and fall within the pivotal end of the War of the Roses and beginning of the new Tudor dynasty through superb visual story-telling. Read More

Review of Poor Poor Lear from the 2013 Bitola Shakespeare Festival

By | March 09, 2016

The audience was waiting to get into the basement playing space of the National Theatre. Behind the door an old woman’s voice screamed “Go away!” The door opened. “Oh, welcome my friends!” The 90-year Nina Sallinen appeared in faded white shoes and stockings, a long 1960s coat, yellowed lace collars, stained white leather gloves, and wild hair. Excitedly she escorted us into “the unfair, cruel, sad, story of poor King Lear!”, as it said on the hand-scrawled programme notes she handed out. Read More

Review of Henry VI Part Three from the 2013 Bitola Shakespeare Festival

By | March 09, 2016

What does it feel like to watch Shakespeare’s darkest story of civil war in a region whose past and recent history has been written by endemic conflict? Bitola’s Henry VI Part Three gave an affective answer. When I saw this show at year’s Globe to Globe, I was thrilled by its kinetic dynamism and visual translation of Shakespeare’s poetic imagery. All those elements impressed me again last night. Read More

Shakespeare’s Shadow: The Belarus Free Theatre’s King Lear at the Globe Theatre

By | August 17, 2015

In 2012, the Belarus Free Theatre participated in the Globe to Globe festival, staging King Lear in Belarusian, radically edited and modernized. The choice to use Belarusian as the primary language of this performance was a daring one, for it is a language that does not exist in a single accepted version and, even within Belarus, is frequently superseded by Russian. An online comment posted under a 2012 review in The Guardian offers a vivid example of indifferent dismissal that such a choice might have produced: “I can imagine few things worse than being subject to Shakespeare in Belarusian. Honestly who’s interested?” Read More

Shamlet: Shakespeare as Palimpsest

By | July 20, 2014

This article investigates one of the most traditional yet uncanny literary recursions in recent practices of cultural translation—the turn to Shakespeare. It explores a range of questions regarding the mediated nature of transnational experiences. How, for example, does this mediation articulate a diverse range of ethnic and cultural identities in the visible, palpable and audible world of theatre? Why Shakespeare? How do stage translations of Shakespeare evince very specific ways of adapting culture in the postmodern Taiwanese context? What is the relationship between cultural translation and national imperatives? Read More

Arab Shakespeare

By | July 25, 2013

There’s still something of novelty about that concatenation “Arab Shakespeare”. Compared to many topics under discussion in this conference programme, “Arab Shakespeare” is a relatively new and unfamiliar concept. Read More

Shakespeare in Borrowed Robes

By | July 29, 2012

Can Shakespeare’s plays give a “local habitation” to the “airy nothing” of globalization? Shakespeare is proclaimed, once again, the bearer of universal currency and Britain’s national poet as the London Olympics draw nearer. Read More

Shakespeare, Asian Actors and Intercultural Spectatorship

By | April 05, 2010 | One Comment

This essay reflects upon the interculturality of spectatorship: How do we relate to what we watch, when a performance foregrounds and implicates the particular cultural position from which we are watching, with its values, habits, and limitations, all of which define what we are able to see? What part does the spectator play in the staging of an encounter between Shakespeare and Asian forms and worldviews? Read More