A. Luis Pujante and Ton Hoenselaars, eds. 2003: Four Hundred Years of Shakespeare in Europe.
This collection of articles makes excellent reading both for those interested in the recent development of Shakespearean scholarship; and also for more general readers who may get a chance to become familiar with relatively unknown schools of criticism and the experience of Shakespeare in other European countries. In this sense the book moves within a fruitful area of research--the reception of the Bard in non-English-speaking contexts--in which certain contributions are worth mentioning like, for instance, Dennis Kennedy (1993), Dirk Delabastita and Lieven D'hulst (1993), or Michael Hattaway, Boika Sokolova and Derek Roper (1994). The editors of this new volume have managed to bring together a number of scholars who show more interest in the analysis of specific realities than in the construction of a grand narrative (yet another) about Shakespeare and/or the construction of European identities. The use of documentary evidence and the analysis of specific performances and translations are therefore the main strength of this book; it could also be added that it manages to draw for its potential readers a comprehensive frame to interpret the recurrent use of Shakespeare in different national traditions since the nineteenth century. In this sense, the contributors have targeted the mechanics of cultural parochialism inherent to nationalist discourses and practices all over Europe, and the more ecumenical perspectives defended by the liberal tradition. The articles chosen by Pujante and Hoenselaars from the bulk of material presented at the conference held in Murcia in 1999 with the same title thereby draw an interesting panorama of Shakespeare's role in the changing and plural contexts of European culture(s).
The topic of Shakespeare in Europe has engaged continental scholars for over a decade. The intellectual insularity of the English-speaking academia, especially in relation to Shakespeare, is pointed out by Stanley Wells in his foreword to the collection when he acknowledges that the increasing use of English as the vehicle to write about Shakespeare "gives English speakers less excuse for ignoring their contributions" (7). But as Dirk Delabastita suggests in his reflection on translation, the problem does not only lie on that side of the coin, as for him "most English Literature specialists extra muros appear to be adopting an assimilationist policy ... Insofar as they perceive their professional advancement in the field of English Studies as dependent on validation by the Anglo-American orthodoxy ... they will be happy to espouse the latter's current agenda and end up being its most orthodox champions" (131). One may wonder then if this is just another turn of English imperialism or a mere recognition of the dominance of English "as a medium of international communication" (7).
In any case, what is clear is that the initiative to study Shakespeare in Europe emerged in the midst of a crucial historical event for the continent: the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent crisis in all communist countries. An excess of optimism was probably at the ground of the Sofia conference held in 1993, which Pujante and Hoenselaars mention as one of the step marks in the development of the field. The original plan was to review the immediate impact of Shakespeare in different countries--but more especially in Eastern European countries--from 1989 to 1992. Such a short temporal focus was justified by the somehow naive belief that the new political situation might affect traditional perceptions of the Bard throughout Europe. Unfortunately, when the meeting took place Yugoslavia was being torn apart by nationalist interests to which western countries were not alien. The old ethnic and religious evils that the communist dictatorships of the Balkans had managed to silence emerged with an unknown violence, and the ideological values that all well-minded scholars hoped to see blooming all over the continent were buried in Sarajevo. In this historical context, the evidence was too strong to be ignored and the victims too many; the Sofia meeting ended on a rather less optimistic note than it had started and it basically served to establish the idea that performing Shakespeare in translation could serve very different masters, and that the ambiguity of the originals was a powerful instrument to construct cultural backgrounds to legitimize any kind of political project.
The first part of this collection includes the afore-mentioned foreword by Stanley Wells and two introductory papers; Hoenslaars and Pujante--"Shakespeare and Europe: An Introduction"--provide the historical background for the theme of "European Shakespeares"; besides the more practical purpose of these studies--to favour "an exchange of information from archival collections" (18)--the authors justify the time span of four hundred years indicated in the title of the collection on the ground that "the 'Shakespeare in European Culture' initiative is brought into focus between the impact of Classical, Medieval and Renaissance culture on the one hand, and, the variegated history of Shakespearean appropriation and dissemination in England, the British Isles, and Continental Europe on the other" (19). Unfortunately this time reference is a loaded weapon that seems to contradict the evidence of most papers--only Schwartz-Gastine's revision of "Shakespeare on the French Stage" seems to match this criterion--which deal with different forms of appropriation taking place during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. One may wonder up to what point unconscious bardolatry is being filtered in this reference, and also if the mystifying connection between the originals and their appropriations ignores one hundred years of cultural blackout upon the Bard. The second introductory article--Balz Engler's "Constructing Shakespeares in Europe"--offers a theoretical framework to conceptualize Shakespeare's appropriations in Europe. He advances three main areas: scholarship, theatrical performance and common culture. Unfortunately, the specificity of Shakespeare as the reference source makes him leave aside certain works that have established influential conceptual patterns as far as the appropriation of the classics by the modern media is concerned, including Shakespeare. Perhaps Harriet Hawkings' books (1990, 1995) are the two most obvious omissions.
The second part--"Appropriations"--includes five contributions that attempt to draw a wide panorama of Shakespeare's revision, from the more poetical to the exclusively political. Keith Gregor in "Shakespeare as a Character on the Spanish Stage: A Metaphysics of Bardic Presence" approaches a number of Spanish plays which have Shakespeare himself as their protagonist rather than his characters. Gregor's discussion on cultural materialism brings into focus the construction of Shakespeare's persona as a "man of the theatre" (44) before most of his plays were even translated into Spanish. Probably the conclusions magnify the relevance of Shakespeare "at the forefront of Spain's theatrical culture" (51) but the paper reviews an interesting question on authorial prestige in a number of quite forgotten Spanish plays. Marta Gibinska--"Enter Shakespeare: The Contexts of Early Polish Appropriations"--offers another interesting example of the cultural detours Shakespeare's appropriation may suffer when the issue of national identity is at stake. Gibinska establishes a double paradigm to interpret the assimilation of Shakespeare into Polish culture before any of his plays were even translated. On the one hand, she considers the French-German influences and the discussion of neoclassical versus baroque aesthetics during the period of the Polish Enlightment. As Gibinska suggests, Shakespeare's genius as the poet of a nation set apart from other continental forces--not surprisingly, this happens while Poland is being torn apart by France, Austria, Prussia and Russia--leads the way to Shakespeare's conversion into a cultural icon in Poland rather than to a revaluation of his works as a playwright because "he could not be squeezed into the theatrical practice of the time" (60).
Manfred Pfister's contribution is probably the most original in the whole book as Pfister's critical undertaking includes him as an inevitable part of the process of appropriation. "Route 66: The Political Performance of Shakespeare's Sonnet 66 in Germany and Elsewhere" traces the translations and adaptations of sonnet 66 to explain how "Shakespeare's text, however, does not only provide the images, the argument, the structure and the Gestus here; the cultural prestige of its author also protects the protest and indictment against legal sanctions" (71). Beyond his topic of interest--the subversive political use of the sonnet--Pfister manages to tune down his own style in order to transmit his research as an exciting "quest" in which Shakespeare, his sonnet 66 and the critic himself are deconstructed at different stages of a discursive continuum. G. D. White also moves into the political appropriation of the Bard, but this time in quite a different sense as he attempts to present the role played by Shakespeare's figure in the construction of A. K. Chesterton's far right ideology. The role played by this former editor of the Shakespeare Review helps White to investigate how certain "idealistic conceptions of literary production can be employed to legitimate ultraconservative, nationalist, and generically fascist ideologies" (89). Nevertheless, two questions remain unanswered. First of all, I miss specific references to the sections in Shakespeare's works which enabled Chesterton and other critics like Wilson Knight to formulate Shakespeare as characteristic of a "prefascist condition" (95); and, secondly, discussion of whether that fascist bending continues into Shakespearean criticism after World War II, if it was simply neutralized by the triumph of democracy, or if it is reinterpreted in a milder version as British nationalism. In the paper that closes this section--although it would probably fit better into the fourth part, "Productions"--Boika Sokolova addresses Shakespeare the popular hero of the twentieth century and wonders how and why he has come to occupy such a prominent position. Starting from a poll sponsored by BBC Radio 4 in which Shakespeare was considered "Personality of the Millennium," Sokolova analyzes the way English natives construct Shakespeare the national hero in close parallel to the analysis of several memorable productions of Hamlet shown in Eastern Europe during the second half of the twentieth century. Through this review, Sokolova wonders about the indetermination of Shakespeare's political messages and their role in the future development of the cultural icon, and ironically concludes that "[if] not a man of the millennium, Shakespeare is certainly an element in the glue that has kept our chipped dinner-service together, and this is no mean an achievement at the end of the bloodiest millennium in human history" (108).
The third part--"Translations"--is the shortest and probably the most controversial section in the book, especially Dirk Delabastita's "More Alternative Shakespeares." His argument tries to focus on the field of Translation Studies and its multiplicity of registers to confirm its relevance for Shakespeare Studies. Nevertheless, the central part of his argument is that the relevance of translation is normally dismissed as part of the occupation for researchers abroad--as opposed to the "native" activity of editing Shakespeare--hence ignoring the cultural clues that translation may bring in the elucidation of Shakespeare's text. For a new approach to this question, he proposes a theory "which rejects any hypostatized concept of translation and which dissolves the older notion of 'source/target' equivalence into a complex fabric of textual relations and interdependencies" (118); as an example for this, he chooses several versions-translations of Hamlet which break the traditional inter-lingual paradigm and help him to state a radical model which "cuts the umbilical cord between original and translation and accepts that there is no way to undo the historical difference--only different ways of negotiating this difference and highlighting or masking it" (122).
Martin Hilsky's "'Telling What Is Told': Original Translation and the Third Text--Shakespeare's Sonnets in Czech" is a much more technical essay on the practice of translation. Through the postulation of an immaterial third text resulting from the interaction between the original and its translated version on the printed page, Hilsky presents the potentialities of bilingual editions as a vehicle for cultural interpretation; unfortunately, the model lacks consistency as far as the concept of reception is concerned, although his use of cloze-text analysis to evaluate the cultural relevance of translations is one of the most challenging aspects of the paper. Finally, Filomena Mesquita closes this section with a more political vision of translation as she compares two nineteenth century Portuguese translations of The Merchant of Venice. Mesquita's analysis focuses upon the peculiar social origin of the translators--the monarch D. Luis (1879) and the man of letters Bulhao Pato (1881)--and their different use of words and readings as they reveal "the specific political, economic, social and cultural context of the late nineteenth century" (150). Perhaps the scope is too wide for a paper of this length, although it hints some brilliant ideas about the ambiguities shown in these translations of the representation of money and the mercantile system in the crucial moment of Portugal's incorporation into the new trends of European capitalism.
The fourth part--"Productions"--brings back into focus the question of cultural appropriation although this time centred on the processes of adaptation and performance rather than translation. In the first article of the group, Dennis Kennedy analyzes the impact of certain European productions of the Bard between 1945 and 1965, considering the ideological stand of their directors and producers. The births of several theatre festivals all over Europe during the years of the Cold War and the presence of Shakespeare plays in their repertoire are read by Kennedy as a more or less conscious attempt to present an imagined continuity with the more ordered world of the past. Kennedy argues quite convincingly that "instead of a banner for elevated values, Shakespeare is most often another product for marketing and display" (177).
Rafael Portillo and Mercedes Salvador's essay on "Spanish Productions of Hamlet in the Twentieth Century" is a minute analysis of the productions of this play in Spain. In spite of their title, the authors try to go back as far as possible in order to offer a comprehensive view of the incorporation of Shakespeare's most representative plays onto the Spanish stage and how Othello or The Taming of the Shrew gained popularity long before Hamlet made a hit among Spanish theatre companies. Although this study focuses on the theatrical impact of the plays rather than on their critical relevance, the conclusions might have been developed further provided the amount and originality of the documentary evidence under scrutiny.
The next two papers--Sylvia Zysset's "Apocalyptic Beginnings at the End of the Millennium: Stefan Bachmann's Troilus and Cressida" and Jozef de Vos' "Shakespeare's History Plays in Belgium: Taken Apart and Reconstructed as 'Grand Narrative'"--change the focus from Shakespeare as the literary author of the plays into the study of two directors--Stefan Bachman and Jan Decorte--who reshape the plays in order to challenge traditional views of Shakespeare's works and even their ideological bend. While Zysset is mainly worried about the theatrical methods used by Bachman in his production to link the Troy play with Western culture of the late 1990s, de Vos' analysis centres on what he considers a "post-modern reinterpretation" (220) of the histories and the exercise of the director to reshape the material into a "grand narrative" which "aimed at creating an impression of seven hundred years of humanity" (213).
The next paper of the section engaged with Shakespearean productions is probably the only one which can account for the time span marked in the title of the collection, as only the French stage seems to have been open to Shakespearean influence from the early seventeenth century. This makes Isabelle Schwartz-Gastine's presentation a good example of the need to keep generalizations aside when we try to write about the transmission of a Shakespeare in Europe. The uniqueness of France in this respect marks a sharp contrast with the rest of European countries, and only Germany may be placed close to it in the creation of national Shakespeares that could count with a large number of readers and devoted audiences. Schwartz-Gastine's review allows her to conclude something that very few other articles in the book might try, that is, to vindicate a French Shakespeare who has lost a large part of his Englishness in the long process of being adapted over more than three centuries.
The last contribution is a very complete and comprehensive bibliography by Ton Hoenselaars focused "on the issue of Shakespeare and his works in a European cultural context" (241). Although a selective bibliography, it can be a great help for those who wish to survey the main lines of research open within this field in several European languages and check in this way the different impact of the figure of the Bard in the cultural landscapes of those nations. This is certainly the best possible way to close a book whose reading is highly rewarding in many aspects; beyond potential disagreements with the construction of Shakespeare as a universal cultural topic, this book shows how the figure of the Bard and its relevance can be approached without entering the old trodden paths of traditional bardolatry, how to keep a critical eye on the mechanisms which tend to present him as an unchallenged icon, and how to find in the multiplicity of approaches the necessary intellectual tension to advance in the understanding of Shakespearean appropriations without mystifying the playwright or the nation from which it emerged.
Kennedy, Dennis, ed. 1993: Foreign Shakespeare: Contemporary Performances. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.
Delabastita, Dirk and Lieven D'hulst, eds. 1993: European Shakespeares: Translating Shakespeare in the Romantic Age. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Hattaway, Michael, Boika Sokolova, and Derek Roper eds. 1994: Shakespeare in the New Europe. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic P.
Hawkings, Harriet 1990: Classics and Trash: Tradition and Taboos in High Literature and Popular Modern Genres. New York: Harvester Wheatsheat.
--1995: Strange Attractors: Literature, Culture, and Chaos Theory. Hertfordshire: Prentice-Hall.
Manuel J. Gomez Lara
Universidad de Sevilla
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|Author:||Gomez Lara, Manuel J.|
|Publication:||Atlantis, revista de la Asociacion Espanola de Estudios Anglo-Norteamericanos|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2005|
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