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Shakespeare was an empty vessel. He does not need decolonization

Shakespeare was an empty vessel.  He does not need decolonization

But between the idea that it is a laugh, or that it is indignation, lies a valuable point in the study – because this recent event reinforces the insidious growing perception of Shakespeare which is inherently ‘problematic’ and otherwise needs’ the colonization ”.

An important cluster of claims from Sayet includes the idea that we have deified Barden. “When you say that Shakespeare is not God, people can not actually handle this information.”

The suggestion is that it was colonial power structures that helped create this totemic figure. “The plays are not neutral, they have violent colonial consequences attached to them”. It is as if Shakespeare was a warship that had landed after land and unloaded a cultural cargo that had the resilient power of an imposed religion.

However, it makes infinitely more sense to see Shakespeare and his works as a kind of empty container, carried on the currents of history, the writing at once shaped by his own imagination and his own age, but open to diverse changing influences and interpretations.

As Simon Callow once put it: “He must have observed everything, absorbed everything – and it must have immediately translated into art.”

He seems to have let everything flow through him, and the dramas scintillate through their quality of fluid and fluid; they reach resolutions but never reach final conclusions.

A perfect example of this is the storm itself, which is so marked by a sense of cultural collision and the dynamics between colonized and colonized, without it lying within a fixed judgment.

Far from according to the ‘colonizer’ Prospero the aura of legitimate authority indicates the piece with valid resistance, identifies ugly flaws – in his audacity and possessiveness – and in the wrath of his slaves, ethereal Ariels and earthly Calibans, unlocks the extraordinary lyricism. “You taught me language; and my profit on’t / is, I know how to curse, ”Caliban rages, and it’s a devastating comeback, one of Bard’s finest lines.

Of course, The Tempest can be adjusted in performance with special political readings — one of the biggest in recent times was the South African staging in RSC in 2009 with Antony Sher’s Prospero opposite anti-apartheid activist John Kani as Caliban. Our sympathy was – understandably – with the latter.

Does The Storm Hold an Elizabethan Worldview? It’s clear when you look at another writer who is hailed as a genius, Rudyard Kipling, that he was a product of his (imperial) age — one twists on lines like “newly captured naked people, half devil and half child.” . Agatha Christie’s writing, one might say, also bore imprints from the British Empire (and its decline). TS Eliot succumbed to anti-Semitism. But where is the equivalent in Shakespeare?

So interested in the unmanageable, Shakespeare enjoys leaving us with a draw. Why does Iago hate so much? What, then, does Macbeth and his wife possess? Is there ever a moment as a prince or king when Hal does not act? Is Shylock not as much an injured, spoiling father as he is an abused, retaliatory money lender? The plays can be performed in just hours, but abound as humanity does, pulling you back again and again.

Are they still happy? Undoubtedly. Were they designed to do more than that? That is a point of discussion. In his book Shakespeare’s Freedom, the American scholar Stephen Greenblatt argues: “Shakespeare’s texts were brought into the literary marketplace under the sign not commitment, duty, self-improvement, academic prestige or aesthetic seriousness, but out of joy.”

It seems that he has endeavored to make them tingle with the immediacy of fresh and blood and vivid, breathless irreducibility. Director Simon Godwin, behind NT’s spellbinding lockdown Romeo and Juliet, made a similar point in a web discussion I hosted him earlier this year. “His intention was to create a really exciting show for his audience. If we see him as a showman, it takes the pressure off us to limit ourselves to some agenda ”.

‘Agendas’ are bread and butter from the lives of scientists – of course, ultimately fed by Shakespeare’s own industry. There is no obstacle to academics saying and writing what they want. The question arises when the ‘debate’ becomes ringefence, not sufficiently open to challenge and filled with contemporary conjectures. The Globe argues that such discussions do not shape the approach to their productions; yet, the reprehensible intellectual side-show from a disturbing commentary, encouraged as part of the building’s raison d’être, can hamper the creative freedom that artists and audiences nurture.

Shakespeare was thus not a rigid ideological structure, but a unique ‘container’ open to all influences and accessible to all to come; he must not be anchored, fastened, allowed to rust in imposed ignominy. “Night lights have burned out, and jocund day is on its toes on the misty mountain peaks,” sighs Romeo. In two lines, Shakespeare takes your mind further and higher than an hour of scholastic discourse can muster. Those who run the show at the Globe and elsewhere would do well to remember it.


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