Thursday, May 29, 2008

Influence on History

Some ramblings ...

I've been asked to give a few guidelines on Shakespeare and his influence on history - and feel a bit stumped.

It is very difficult to say - 'he (or his works) are directly influential here ....'

What does Shakespeare's influence mean anyway? (Folger has an answer.)

I suppose as good a place to start as any is his influence on 'the' language - whether I would go as far as some and claim his 'invention' of hundreds of words I don't know - certainly he is creditable with first recorded usage. And because the plays were such a part of the English Education system in latter years, they definitely became fixed as a result. I just know the way the human mind works with language and everyone 'invents' words all the time.

Not unexpectedly the written works had a big influence on other writers - not only in the UK, but internationally. Personally I blame the Germans for all that dark romantic nonsense that gets associated with Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet.

As to influence on the theatre - surprising really, but not until the 20th Century did the plays really kick in as a factor of staging - it took the revolutions of Brecht et al to free the Shakespeare texts from picture frame production.

Whether I'd go as far as this:

After we have said our strong word of Shakespeare's powerful influence upon literature it yet must be said that it is difficult to lay finger on one single historical movement except the literary one which Shakespeare even remotely influenced.
...I'm not sure - it does raise the 'two books' issue - The King James Bible and Shakespeare Complete Works as the most influential books in the English Language. The above quote is from a source with an axe to grind, so overstates the case I suspect.

As a subject of historical research, Shakespeare has been well trodden ground - and the focus of so much scholarship has certainly given the Elizabethan/Jacobean period a focus it might not otherwise have had in terms of the English National Image (internal and external).

Countless books written with countless theories and countless reviews (Try this from International Socialism). The fact that Germaine Greer's book, Shakespeare's Wife is making a splash suggests something ... but what? That our perceptions of the world are visible in our histories .. Shakespeare as subject of History is frequently used as justification for our own beliefs, or for changing the world. Greer, for one, would not deny she is trying to break one perception of the relationship between men and women in Elizabethan England with the intention of pointing out a greater equality and role for women ... more in line with modern Western Societies.

Shakespeare has thus become not an agent so much as a catalyst.

This can be seen clearly in the controversies which surround his supposed anti-semitism: School girls refusing to take examinations in England because of a play they have never read. Debates and arguments, papers and books within the Jewish intelligencia.

But it isn't only amongst some of the Jewish faith that Shakespeare is controversial ... I love this one (and all the quotes promulgated in a public blog claiming to want to protect children!).

There is a big industry based on Shakespeare - with serious financial consequences to the English Economy (whoops - perhaps British ... or even international). Stratford is second most visited tourist site in the UK (thank you American dollars - but can you do something about your economy to make the thing worth more?). Verona sells 'Romeo and Juliet' - I still remember a visit there where I saw not only a 40 min cut down version of the play in Italian in the Capulet house, but The Two Gentlemen (in German).

As a cultural icon you are not considered educated in many parts of the world if you don't know your Shakespeare - partly as a consequence of the English education system exported to the colonies, but not only.

Romanian children, Russian children, Korean children, Canadian children - I guess - all need to 'brush up' their Shakespeare ... and start quoting him. How many projects in Schools have a Shakespeare theme? Suffer the little (American - not suggesting anyone buy that by the way) children!

I was surprised when I first left England to go walkabout how much Shakespeare there was in the world.

But it must be the 'colonies' that were affected most -

This colonial baggage of using Shakespeare as the ideal emblem of Western power and English imperial culture is one that began in the United States and Canada and persisted through India, Australia, and Africa.
(That's from Shakespeare in Canada)

The film, Shakespeare Wallah is,

a film of unexpected juxtapositions and cultural conflict; it is a look at changing values in art, and an examination of the question of what it means to be indigenous to a place.
India is a classic case.

So too is the film industry itself - try this and this.

You'll have noticed by now I can't get to a point in HISTORY when Shakespeare did 'this' ... or maybe I can.

There is the performance of Richard II which was supposed to be the signal for an uprising against Elizabeth.

And there are people who are Shakespeare influenced who go on to be significant 'actors' on the Domestic or World Stage: Carlyle, an 'influential Victorian writer, for one; and ...?

People have seen performances of the plays done in periods of dictatorship ... as a sign of liberty (I think here of Richard III performed in Romania in Caucescu's time) ... but nothing happened.

No, I suspect Shakespeare hasn't caused anything to happen.

Maybe he's created the climate though.

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