Painting Shakespeare Red: An East-European Appropriation

Painting Shakespeare Red: An East-European Appropriation

Painting Shakespeare Red: An East-European Appropriation

Painting Shakespeare Red: An East-European Appropriation

Synopsis

This study deals wih the approriation of Shakespeare for the needs of communist ideology. While primarily concentrating on the uses of his dramatic work in Bulgaria, it places his experience in the East-European context. The bulk of the book is devoted to an analysis of the complex interplay betweeen oppressive ideological criticism and theater practice. It shows how Shakespeare in the theater gradually managed to escape the constraints of ideology and became a strong oppositional voice.

Excerpt

The adaptation of Shakespeare to the political exigencies of the moment has a history that goes back no less than four centuries. If it is true that on the eve of Essex’s rebellion in 1601 Richard II was staged, as Queen Elizabeth believed, “40tie times in open streets and houses” to suggest that an inept monarch could be deposed without much ado, then the motivation behind some Shakespearean productions under the communist regimes in Eastern Europe could not have been very different. Of course, it can be argued that an equally important precedent was set by Macbeth, if we accept that the author’s choice of the plot and his treatment of story and character can be explained by a desire to please James I as an honorable successor to Banquo. Similar practical intentions have been surmised in quite a few of the plays. While they do not rule out the possibility of deepseated essentialist interests on the part of the dramatist, they show that more fleeting concerns cannot be totally excluded from his work either, and therefore, even when added for the nonce, can hardly impair its lasting value.

The persistent practice of employing Shakespeare for political or narrowly ideological purposes is worth studying in its continuity. With the internationalization of the Bard by the German Romantics in the late eighteenth century, this process entered a new broader phase, that of the creation of national literary traditions and identities across Europe. By the middle of the nineteenth century he had already become, in Turgenev’s words, Russia’s own “flesh and blood,” a nash Shekspir. This development came to a head in the twentieth century, when the jingoistic madness of Europe did not leave him uninvolved. The Germans led the way again by taking the poet into the trenches of the First World War with the claim that by right he belonged to their heroic race, rather than to that of their emasculated English enemies, an unser Shakespeare. The subsequent decades of continuing militarization and polarization of the continent saw the further . . .

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