Circumscribe Shakespeare – The American Conservative

In the prologue of Henry V, the Chorus begins by apologizing to the audience for the actors in the play, who will attempt imperfectly to portray the glorious exploits of the King of England in France. He asks with great rhetoric whether the stage is the appropriate forum for recounting such historical events:

But sorry, and kindness to all,

The flat unbred spirits who dared

On this scaffold unworthy to engender

Such a large object: can this cockpit contain

The vast fields of France? where can we fit

In this wooden O the helmets themselves

What frightened the air at Agincourt?

The answer to that question, according to a growing number of American theaters and acting groups, is, “Who cares?”

The Shakespeare Theater Association, the Washington Post recently reported, “is trying to move towards a more inclusive membership”. It is “attempting to understand opposing perspectives, some rejecting the argument that Shakespeare’s texts are infinite treasures; that they can even cause harm. It’s part of a larger trend to “decenter” or “revise” Shakespeare to combat alleged systemic racism in the theater industry, which sometimes means doing without it altogether. “In search of contemporary relevance, classical theaters are increasingly receptive to playwrights’ departures from original texts,” explains the To post. Recently, the Shakespeare Theater Company in Washington DC presented the world premiere of Once upon a timea feminist tale set to the music of Britney Spears.

It’s not surprising. Calls to end the “canon” of Western literature and art by America have been mounting for more than half a century, so of course Shakespeare must leave the stage as well. Allan Bloom lists much of this in his 1987 The closure of the American mind: students increasingly ignore the “great texts” of Western civilization, while hollow values ​​like “greater openness”, “less rigidity” and “freedom from authority” are fashionable on campuses Americans. We can perhaps update the language to ‘inclusion’, ‘intersectionality’ and ‘safe spaces’, but the general theme is the same: Western civilization represents something oppressive, intolerant and archaic that should be removed from its pedestal for the sake of diversity.

“You can go from K-12 to college and graduate school and never read a black playwright,” said an assistant professor of performance studies at the State University of New York at New Paltz. . To post. “You won’t pass ninth grade without reading Shakespeare. So what does this do to our culture as a whole? I don’t know, but I guess he would say it perpetuates white supremacist and patriarchal norms, while degrading the achievements of people of color. “Shakespeare was the weapon that was used to tell us we weren’t good enough,” the Bahamas-based director of Shakespeare in Paradise explained.

Well, maybe sometimes we need to be humble. Is it the worst thing to realize that others who have gone before us may have achieved an excellence that we can aim for, but never achieve? And what contemporary writer or playwright is arrogant enough to dare to compare himself to the Bard? We are talking about someone whose corpus is considered brilliant not only for its aesthetic qualities, but also for its description and analysis of the human person in all its passions, failures, aspirations and excellences. Theologians, political theorists, psychologists and countless others have probed Shakespeare’s works for wisdom and instruction.

Also, it’s not like re-imagining Shakespeare in a different historical period or culture is anything new. 1957 film by Akira Kurasawa throne of blood reinterprets macbethand his 1985 film Had run imagines King Lear in feudal Japan (the latter, I would say, is one of the best films ever made). Ten years ago I saw the Shakespeare Theater Company’s performance of A lot of noise for nothing, reimagined in 1930s Cuba (it was fantastic). This is what makes art and literature objectively superior: they speak so deeply about the human condition that they can be translated across cultures and generations and still communicate eternal truths.

But many educators and artists don’t see Shakespeare that way. Teacher at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento say it To post A few years ago that she dislikes Shakespeare because she “can’t always easily navigate” with him. She adds, “there is a WORLD of truly exciting literature that better meets the needs of my modern, ethnically diverse and wonderfully curious students.” To put it more bluntly, Shakespeare, the dead white male, is too distant to identify with nonwhite students of the 21st century. This same reflection has a lot to do with the abandonment of Shakespeare on stage.

It’s condescending and demeaning. What about the “ethnic” urban youth of the 20th century whose first language was Italian or Polish? Are Latino children unable to be inspired, challenged, or taught by someone simply because their language and culture is different from theirs? If Shakespeare represents an excellence not only of the English language, but also of storytelling and human psychology, wouldn’t we want everyone, regardless of race or ethnicity, to know him?

Certainly, advocates of multiculturalism think so of the value of non-Western art and literature – and they should. Whatever someone has written, rhymed or sung that is good, true and beautiful deserves our consideration, regardless of their language of origin or continent. And yet, even here, Shakespeare’s legacy meets fierce resistance.

“This pedestal that we put on it [Shakespeare] we should be slammed to the ground! says Tai Verley, artistic director of Philadelphia-based Revolution Shakespeare. Stephen Burdman, artistic director of the New York Classical Theatre, agrees: “We used to say, ‘Shakespeare is for everyone.’ Well, Shakespeare isn’t for everyone…. Perhaps if white men hadn’t been the predominant culture, Shakespeare wouldn’t be “Shakespeare.” In other words, Shakespeare is only considered great because white supremacist power structures forced us to think so. I don’t know how anyone was exposed to Hamlet, othelloWhere Romeo and Juliet might think such garbage.

Either way, Shakespeare needs to be put in place, so to speak, in the name of diversity and inclusion. Even if it means cutting off his nose to upset his face, denying an intellectual and cultural heritage that has influenced the world for 400 years. That’s about as defeatist as getting rid of academic exposure to the Bible because you don’t believe it’s of divine origin. But hey, if Western civilization is a self-congratulatory myth, as an Ivy League-educated teacher and friend once told me, we can do without it.

Or, as many of these theater troupes do with Shakespeare, dismantle it, reshape it, and recast it in such a way that it’s no longer about greed (Richard III), romance (Tame the shrew), or revenge (Titus Andronicus), but the sins of our the spirit of the times: racism, homophobia, colonialism. The irony is that in doing so, we make Shakespeare less universal and more parochial – his words no longer transcend time, place and culture, but speak only narrowly of our current (and fleeting) fetishes. How sad and counterproductive, especially considering that Shakespeare’s global appropriation has so often been both profound and exhilarating. When I first saw Kurosawa Had run in high school, I didn’t even know it was a rendition of King Lear. For me, the piece will always evoke daimyo and samurai.

Shakespeare’s waning influence means more than just the loss of our heritage. It means a weakening of our ability to understand that cultures and times different from our own have something of eternal value to tell us. If we can’t accept that it transcends the fact that Shakespeare’s depth transcends his whiteness, masculinity, or Englishness, then there’s nothing stopping us from rejecting any writer whose race, gender, or language doesn’t fit our definition. fragile and ephemeral value.

Casey Chalk writing on religious and cultural issues for The American Conservative and is a contributing editor for the New Oxford Review. He is the author of The Persecuted: True Stories of Courageous Christians Living Their Faith in Muslim Lands (Sophia Institute Press).

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