Shakespeare, performed in the most unlikely places.
In a melding of literary history and travelogue, journalist and BBC Radio presenter Dickson (The Rough Guide to Shakespeare, 2009, etc.) enthusiastically recounts his worldwide excursions in search of Shakespearean productions. As a playwright, Shakespeare “wrote bestride the world,” more often setting his works in far-flung places rather than his native Britain. When he turned to England, he reached back into history. Part of his motivation may have been to avoid censorship; “playwrights of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras worked in continual fear of losing their livelihoods” if they offended those in power. But Dickson is more interested in how Shakespeare has been interpreted globally; to find out, he hopped around the world, watching performances and interviewing everyone who might enlighten him. Shakespeare has long been popular in Germany, he discovered, especially “at moments of political crisis or change,” such as the rise of Nazism. In South Africa, the author viewed performances inflected with the nation’s racial troubles. In Germany, he accompanied a woman who works on postwar political theater to a “self-consciously baffling” production of Coriolanus, “acted by five female performers wearing wigs to a soundtrack of corny eighties pop music.” Although he asserts that “in translation…the plays had a habit of wriggling free” to suggest new meanings, Dickson is confounded by the difficulties of translating them into Chinese. “The challenges…were almost innumerable,” a Chinese translator tells him, even with an apparently simple line such as, “To be or not to be.” The author is amused by the notion that for decades, Chinese scholars put forth Marxist interpretations: “Shakespeare excellently depicts the real nature of money,” Marx noted with satisfaction. Despite a tendency to digress—he reports on every thought, step, and sometimes irrelevant observation—Dickson proves himself a genial guide to Shakespeare’s huge influence and legacy.
A frequently illuminating investigation of Shakespeare around the world.