All entries for July 2015

July 09, 2015

Global Shakespeare: Lost or Found in Translation?

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Back in June I had the opportunity to attend a fantastic and unusual event at the Warwick Arts Centre, run by the Global Shakespeare project (a collaboration between the University of Warwick and Queen Mary, University of London). Over the past week, the arts company Dash Arts (co-directed by Josephine Burton and Tim Supple) has been working with a range of actors from all over the world to present localized Shakespearean traditions and modes, and to work towards what a 'global Shakespeare' might look like.

As part of these workshops, Tim Supple and the participating actors invited the public to a special event where multilingual extracts from King Learwere performed in a series of improvised and startlingly fresh vignettes. Joined by Global Shakespeare director David Schalkwyk, internationally renowned scholar and translator Alfredo Modenessi and longtime Guardian drama critic Michael Billington, Supple led a discussion about what the term 'global Shakespeare' might mean, to actors, directors, and theatre audiences as well as to academics and critics.

I'd class myself as something of a skeptic about 'global Shakespeare'--while I believe deeply in the value and utility of performing Shakespeare's texts in as many cultural, temporal, and linguistic contexts as possible, I'm concerned about the value of many performances: what do they achieve? More specifically, is the effect of these performances always positive? Is performing Shakespeare in non-English contexts a productive way to explore the effects of colonialism, or is it a tool of colonialism? How does a Shakespearean identity (if we can use that term) interact with the rich variety of cultural and individual identities of readers and performers?

I was really pleased to hear the discussion move to address exactly these issues; while I'm not sure we arrived at a definitive and wholly satisfactory answer, the discussion itself demonstrated not just the multiplicity of Shakespeares and their ongoing value, but the importance of exploring the foundational issues raised by 'global Shakespeare' as a concept. It was the process that was the purpose of the workshop, and it was energizing and exciting to see that enacted not just through academic discussion, but also through the practical exploration of staging these Shakespeares. Beyond the loftier questions, it was just wonderful as an aesthetic experience: when it comes down to it, that's what I love and appreciate most about Shakespeare.

July 2015

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