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Working Paper - 23 APRIL 2014: SHAKESPEARE'S 450th BIRTH ANNIVERSARY

The role of the Bard as philosophical poet and promoter of the European project.
Auteur: 
Major General Giorgio SPAGNOL
Date de publication: 
9/4/2014

Shakespeare plays are gold mines of advice for politicians: “Listen before speaking; Stick to the facts; Keep calm and carry on” (Hamlet). “Keep it simple” (Richard III). “Don't be a know-it-all” (As you like it). “Get to the point” (Measure for Measure).
Shakespeare was an observer of permanent political issues and dealt consistently and profoundly with politics where political issues are the very substance of a fair amount of his plays and crucial matters of state are remarkably dealt with. Hamlet is a political actor responding to a political act; inheritance in “King Lear” is political, being the kingdom itself at stake; even “Romeo and Juliet” has political implications given the power vacuum left by impotent political entities. In “The Tempest” and “As You like It” the issue is the theft and abuse of political power."
Shakespeare political vision is wide-ranging, compelling, and relevant to modern audiences. But if we compare Shakespeare to Machiavelli in the realm of political morality and conflict between ambition and justice, we discover that he absorbed the lessons of Machiavelli but without going over to his cynical realism.
Current political affairs find more than scope within Shakespeare's vast landscape, serving as a matrix for decoding the machinations of human politics that continue to drive the action of world events.

Considerations

Over the past four centuries Shakespeare has played an important role within the “European context” being often resorted to in political propaganda in times of war and peace, as well as in more subtle manner in which ideologies have permeated readings, performances, adaptations, translations, and other appropriations of his plays.
Later generations have understood Shakespeare through the prism of their contemporary experience of culture and politics: the history and the issue of the Jewish people in “The Merchant of Venice” is a case in point. In recent times Shakespeare's Shylock has been “translated” into a banker, a soldier, a Palestinian refugee, with diversified settings such as a Nazi concentration camp, the Sinai desert or a corporate office.
The fall of the Berlin Wall combined with the ensuing increased physical and intellectual mobility have created a perfect breeding ground for a “hybrid” Shakespeare in which spatial, temporal, cultural, linguistic, and stylistic heterogeneity thrive.
Europe is not only the geographical and imaginative space where these and other developments have taken place but it is also the project of a political integration. Shakespeare can therefore be regarded as a “European” author who contributed to create a European literary identity out of linguistic and cultural diversity.
Performances of Shakespeare in the last decades have tended to continue the tradition of political interpretation. What is new in approaches to staging Shakespeare in Europe in recent decades is an increased interest in non-English productions, with an increasing appreciation of foreign productions of Shakespeare, with artists, audiences and academics traveling around the globe on an unprecedented scale to participate in international festivals and conferences. We can no longer ignore the fact that his plays are not exclusively English since for four centuries they have been adapted and adopted into different cultures, becoming German, Italian, Romanian, Spanish, Polish etc. (or, on a global scale, European, Asian, American, African, and more), thus allowing us to better understand Shapespeare's interpretative potential.

Conclusions

For hundreds of years people have found in Shakespeare the words to express their dreams and their own deepest feelings of hope, love and fear. Shakespeare's works traveled out of the theater and into the world. In 2012, the brand new state of South Sudan celebrated its independence from Sudan, after two civil wars, by featuring Cymbeline (8) in Arabic.
Shakespeare was also on Robben Island, the South African prison where in the 1970s many leaders of the African National Congress (ANC), opposing apartheid, were imprisoned. His “Complete Works” was clandestinely introduced in Robben Island and each jailed ANC member was asked to select a line or a passage that appealed to him. Nelson Mandela chose a passage on courage and death from Julius Caesar: “Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once”. The “Robben Island Bible” is now a historical element of the struggle against apartheid.
His contemporary Ben Jonson, outstanding dramatist and poet, author of “Volpone” and “The Alchemist”, second only to Shakespeare's genius, reflecting upon the achievements of his peer, wrote of Shakespeare “He is not of an age, but for all time”.
In every culture and age, Shakespeare seems to speak to the present as, although being the soul of his age, at the same time he never confined himself to the particularities of his historical moment but he continuously answered the key questions on man and mankind.
On April 23rd 2016 the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare will be celebrated by the European Parliament and the Bard will be adopted as its “European laureate”, thus representing the “European shared cultural heritage”. The words of Shakespeare have been translated into hundreds of languages, from German to Japanese, Hebrew to Hindi, Maori to Yoruba. The “Complete Works” has inspired more plays, films, paintings, music, ballets, operas, overtures and orations than any other works of literature. In this age of moral relativism, logical positivism and the equality of all religions and beliefs, Christianity is no longer able to constitute the soul of Europe. So it is up to Shakespeare, the soul of every age, to act as the only available means to promote Europe's cultural tradition, with an awareness that his extraordinary writing skills to create accurate portrayals of human truth have not been rivaled or replicated since his death.
In the middle of the 19th century, it was proposed to build a 100 foot tall Shakespeare monument in London, made of cast iron and resting on a pedestal. Inside there would be a winding staircase leading up to the statue's eyes so as to look through Shakespeare's eyes and have a view of London, Europe and the entire world. The monument has not been erected, so far: but never say never again!

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