“The Lure of Intercultural Shakespeare”
Medieval and Early Modern English Studies, Volume 15 No. 1 (2007)
Shakespeare is unarguably a most active participant in the so-called intercultural theatre, but has attracted little attention from intercultural theorists and critics. This essay locates Shakespeare within intercultural debates, the two most significant issues of which are cultural equality and authenticity. In most intercultural Shakespeare productions, non-Western cultural elements are no more than scenographic embellishments to the framework of Shakespearean plot, character and theme. Despite the increasing emphasis on performance in contemporary theatre, the continuing hegemony of verbal signs over performing signs makes an “intercultural” Shakespeare theatre of this kind mainly a Shakespearean event. While deconstructionist and indigenized Shakespeare productions deliver cultural equality, they lose claims for Shakespearean authenticity. Intercultural Shakespeare turns out to be a paradox.
Despite such dilemmas, productions dubbed as intercultural Shakespeare abound. The way to the universal Bard was paved through the long stage history that approved any theatrical changes as long as Shakespearean “spirit” was retained: a telling example of Western logocentrism that disregards outward materiality and puts value in ideas only. Shakespeare, deprived of Elizabethan/Jacobean historicity, operates like a “universal solvent” in the international theatre circuit under the logic of global capitalism. The use of the Western canon like Shakespeare adds a tinge of high art to an intercultural production as well as guarantees easy circulation in the countries that were and are under Western influence. For such reasons productions advertize themselves as intercultural and Shakespearean, creating an illusion of utopian cultural pluralism; a close analysis of intercultural Shakespeare only exposes the liaison between interculturalism and cultural imperialism.