02 March 2007

The Guinness Stout of the Renaissance

Not often I find an article about Shakespeare worth sharing here, but this one strikes me as quite good, offering not just a broad survey of Shakespeare's international influences but also a few appropriately stinging shots against Historicism and its cluckingly reductive parochialism. The author's especially right about Shakespeare's translation in non-English cultures, especially in Japan, China and India.

Historicism, I'd glibly suggest, grew up around the question of how to isolate Shakespeare and keep him from contaminating other branches of literary and cultural study. Or, more accurately, to cut him down to size; the only thing historicists despise more than the notion of universality is the notion of great or titanic figures. Except, of course, when it comes to Stephen Greenblatt.


Pious Labours said...

Very decent article, and one I'm entirely sympathetic with, and his comment about the foreign veneration for Shakespeare is correct. Even more, non-Anglo societies tend to consider Shakespeare as their own!

I already know your views on New Historicism, so I won't preach to the choir. Based on what little Greenblatt I've read, what he gets away with is truly and jaw-droppingly amazing!

Dr J said...

RK has asked me to post below, Blogger's comment programme bungling something up on his end. Here it is:

Excellent piece, even if he does use 'historicism' for 'New Historicism'. The thing to remember about NH and Cultural Materialism is not that they believe everything is determined by contingency -- these people are not philosophers, they're Marxist-Leninists at heart. They are not out to find a truth about Shakespeare, they're out to debunk him because he is, and has long been, the darling of the middle class. Read Dollimore's Political Shakespeare for onr of the best examples I know. Incidentally, (British) Cultural Materialists think (American) New Historicists are effete wimps.

To me these omphaloscopic scholars are of no interest; what gets my goat is the influence all this has had on theatre. It is now almost impossible to find a stage production of a Shakespeare play that has any sense of either Elizabethanness or (alternatively) universality. Topicality or plain individualist eccentricity rules the beshatten roost. Will has become the lamppost against which every director has to cock his leg.
Rant over.

Dr J said...

Political Shakespeare is a vile text, one I eschewed regularly and openly when I was an ill-fated gradling. It became, to me, the epitome of clumsy, pious thinking, especially insofar as it would purport to discuss Shakespeare by discussing everything but. All the positionings-- of so-called cultural poetics and ideological dispositions-- represented all of the things that were Unliterary about literary studies, especially by figures for whom the word "literary" was, like Macbeth to actors, a word You Just Don't Utter, except in the pejorative.

What gets my goat, RK, more than the theatrical influence, is the extent to which the historical school was accepted by the leading forces in academia as unassailable and unquestionable. The historicist view, while sometimes informing, is fundamentally parochial and negative (pronounced ne-GAY-tive). It reduces and it reduces, often as it exempts scholars from actually having to talk about literary texts proper. Political Shakespeare spends how long in characterising Shakespeare before the Bard's finally allowed, grudgingly, a word in edge-wise?

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