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.
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.
In Stalinist Russia, just a few years before the Great Purges, Maxim Gorkii encouraged USSR writers during an All-Union Congress of Soviet Writers in 1934 to emulate Shakespeare as a model of socialist realism. This is only one of the better-known landmarks of Shakespeare’s afterlife in the Soviet cultural sphere. While there were ideologically homogeneous approaches to Shakespeare, there were also debates about the value of Shakespeare after the First World War.
Due to Karl Marx’s frequent references in his political treatises, Shakespeare held a significant place in a number of communist and other left-authoritarian countries, including China and the USSR. And although there were themes in Shakespeare that turned out to be inconvenient for communist ideology, other Shakespearean plays were put into service. In Part I of this volume of the Yearbook, the special section of chapters explores the vicissitudes of artistic and political uses of Shakespeare in Soviet culture and ideology after the October Revolution in 1917, including in some of the continuing resonances of those uses since the collapse of the Soviet Union. And while the real and perceived resistance to prevailing ideologies of Soviet directors has tended to capture recent critical attention, there is a wide range of Soviet and post-Soviet interpretations of Shakespeare.
The King’s Speech (dir. Tom Hooper, 2010) and The Theory of Everything (dir. James Marsh, 2015) deal with figures that suffer from speech impairment. Lines from Shakespeare play an important role in scenes about speech therapy in The King’s Speech.
Having worked with multiple therapists without any result, Bertie (Prince Albert, Duke of York, later King George VI), a stutterer, is reluctant to receive treatment from Lionel Logue. In their first session, Logue bets Bertie a shilling that he can in fact read without stammer right away, and he would record his speech as evidence. Logue puts headphones on Bertie and asks him to read Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” speech into a Silvertone Home Voice Recorder. Continue reading →
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. Continue reading →
How might we engage with the “essence” of King Lear, or “Learness,” 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.
In contrast to Laurence Olivier’s Lear in Elliott’s 1983 film, who laughs off Cordelia’s initial response, Scofield’s Lear speaks methodically and remains stern throughout the scene, which ends with him calmly banishing Cordelia. Cordelia’s aside is cut, thereby diminishing the weight of a potentially revelatory moment as well as Cordelia’s self-discovery.
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. Continue reading →
Excerpted from chapter 5 of Race by Martin Orkin and Alexa Alice Joubin. New Critical idiom Sereis. London: Routledge, 2019, pp. 193-227. Full text available online
When confronted with the unknown, many societies tend to transfer observations of unfamiliar phenomena onto their mental map of what is already known. Race as a category is entangled with empirical knowledge, misinformation, and ideology, all of which seek to justify and sustain particular beliefs. Knowledge about otherness is socially constructed. Knowledge of race results from taxonomical observations made for colonial, medical, bureaucratic, or other purposes such as political movements. Continue reading →
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. The cross-cultural dialogue was rich and beautifully embodied by the actors, their choice of modern editions or translations of the play, and their individual acting styles. The entire multinational cast was cooking up something delicious and original.
During the brainstorming session that followed, Supple asked: ‘What came before language?’ The question was designed to draw attention to multilingual spaces on and off stage and the implications of acting and doing Shakespeare in such a space. He asked the group to take note of what we might find ‘when we move away from [verbal] language’ and of the ‘seeds of what we might find’. The answers the group came up with were diverse and rich: emotions; physicality; body language; that which incarnates the words; what lies under the words; and, last but not least, clarity of intent. In other words, there is a rich non-verbal language that come before and alongside utterance, which is particularly true in the case of non-English-language or multilingual performances of Shakespeare. Continue reading →
“My angel!” A woman’s voice is heard outside a hut in the snow in Kashmir in 1995, a landscape devoid of colors other than mostly black, white, and deep blue. Ghazala’s son, Haider, a lone fighter, is hiding inside the severely damaged hut. Having sustained gun-shot wounds, he is surrounded by the soldiers led by his uncle Khurram who plans to kill him with a shoulder-launch rocket, but Ghazala, caught in between her lover and her son who is intent on avenging his father’s death, convinces Khurram to give her one last chance to persuade Haider to give up his revenge plan and surrender. Soft spoken, Ghazala may not appear to be a particularly strong woman at first glance, but she is taking on the active role of a liaison, negotiator, and now a game changer.