As Chapter 1 suggests, there can be no innate paradox between the notion of radical theatre and Shakespearean production where people like Brecht, Boal, and Knowles see Shakespeare’s plays, their original performance conditions and their capacity for contemporary deployment as potentially subversive, but the matter remains vexed. For Brecht, utilizing Shakespeare in the pursuit of an epic or dialectical theatre requires a stripping of Shakespeare’s bourgeois and romantic accretions, a return to the non-realist origins of his theatre practice and an extension of his latent interests in representing the populace, but this is no mean task and questions remain about the extent to which a production can escape Shakespeare’s high cultural baggage. After all, if theatre as an institution is often bound to cultural hegemony and the ideological conformity that implies, what chance of escaping that paradigm has an author whose work is pre-eminently enshrined in the Western cultural hierarchy? Is it impossible for Shakespeare on stage to be truly radical? While political interrogation of the plays has become central to literary study, particularly in terms of the triumvirate of cultural studies—gender, race, and class—identity politics in performance is harder to see in conventional productions, partly because of the way macro concerns tend to get individuated in the body of the actor, so that a more abstract debate about the place of women, for instance, tends to play as a psychological study of a single character. Even when productions take a more political tack, it might be asked whether they can overcome the audience’s assumptions about what Shakespeare is and represents, or whether such a production can realistically reach more than a financially and educationally privileged elite. Further, if Shakespeare can be brought to other audiences, is that necessarily a good thing, or does it serve only to evangelize a dominant world view which creates a deeper sense of cultural alienation in the less traditional audience? Where productions modulate their text to accommodate such audiences, to what extent are they still “doing Shakespeare,” and does such modulation suggest that the only way to render the plays politically effective is to virtually throw them out and start over?
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- The Curious Case of Mr Shakespeare
Andrew James Hartley
- Macmillan Education UK
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