Academic journal article Shakespeare Studies

The Popular Mechanics of Rude Mechanicals: Shakespeare, the Present, and the Walls of Academe

Academic journal article Shakespeare Studies

The Popular Mechanics of Rude Mechanicals: Shakespeare, the Present, and the Walls of Academe

Article excerpt

Some man or other must present Wall; and let him have some plaster, or some loam, or some rough-cast about him, to signify wall; and let him hold his fingers thus, through that cranny shall Pyramus and Thisbe whisper.

Bottom, A Midsummer Night's Dream

To say that we must be as suspicious of the interests of intellectuals as we are of any other social interests is not to imply that we should or somehow could reject them. To the contrary: we can act in good faith only as long as we recognize that there is no escape from the consequences of possession of cultural capital, just as there is no way of getting outside the game of value judgment and the game of cultural distinction.

Frow, Cultural Studies and Cultural Value

Constructing concepts and ... "common names" is really an activity that combines the intelligence and action of the multitude, making them work together. Constructing projects means making exist in reality a project that is a community. There is no other way to construct concepts but to work in a common way.

Hardt and Negri, Empire


IF RECENT PUBLICATIONS are any indication, academic discourse in the United States about popular culture and Shakespeare constitutes a distinctive and potentially burgeoning subfield. That field is not wholly equivalent to work on Shakespeare films, although Roger Manvell, Jack Jorgens, and, more recently, Anthony Davies and Peter Donaldson, among many others, have contributed to the discourse around productions of Shakespeare in media other than print. (1) Still, each of the critics named generally reads the films as texts whose justification can be found in the self-contained and self-legitimated protocols of cinema studies, rather than as a subset of an alternative cultural formation focused on the pervasiveness of mass media, understood as standing in some contestatory relation to the cultural field for which Shakespeare is deemed metonymous. Although it has undoubtedly been influenced by the startling volume of Shakespeare-inflected films of the 1990s, and abetted by an efflorescence of references to Shakespeare on TV, in advertising, in business manuals, and other apparently exotic locations, a genealogy for pop Shakespeare would have to take into account two moments in American academia: the emergence of cultural studies as a university discipline in the United States on the one hand, and on the other, the publication of Lawrence Levine's historical account of Shakespeare's place in nineteenth-century popular culture, Highbrow-Lowbrow. (2)

A systematic treatment of the genesis of cultural studies lies beyond the purview of this essay. (3) Nevertheless, a few germane aspects of its history may be isolated. While cultural studies in the United States has sometimes been considered coextensive with work on identitarian formations concerning race, gender, and sexuality, the field of Shakespeare and popular culture has taken its agenda from an object rather than an identity; in this it reveals some affinity with the work of the so-called "Birmingham School." It was Raymond Williams who famously asserted the ordinariness of "culture"--that is, culture in the anthropological sense--as an antidote to education understood as an investiture in elite signifying practices, in Culture as validated by Arnoldian and Leavisite discourse. (4) In contradistinction to a Great Tradition of English literature or an equally sacerdotal discourse of art or classical music, Williams, Richard Hoggart, Paul Willis, and others acknowledged that a curriculum of rarefied texts was inextricable from political questions: if education is a matter of class reproduction, then high literacy is a method of gatekeeping and exclusion, and reading elite texts becomes a species of epistemic violence. (5) Rather than perpetuate an Oxbridge-inflected vestment in Culture, from which working-class subjects either felt themselves alienated or from which they were, in fact, debarred by educational tracks, many Birmingham scholars focused their critical and pedagogical attention on the practices of everyday working-class life, a shift that necessarily brought to the forefront the role of mass media in the production and maintenance of that life. …

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