The Seeds of Time

in Critical Survey
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  • 1 University of Hertfordshire gh@herts.ac.uk
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Underpinned by a cultural materialist study of the presence of Shakespeare in a series of great national festivals – the great Exhibition of 1851, the Festival of Britain in 1951, and the London Olympics of 2012 – this story uses imaginative methods to pursue a critical inquiry, combining documentary evidence and critical argument with imaginative speculation. To study Shakespeare diachronically through a time-line of national commemorations, the kind of work featured in Critical Survey 22, 2 (2010), Shakespeare and the Cultures of Commemoration, is analogous to travelling in time. Here Wells’s Time Traveller, scientist, engineer, and devotee of progress, returns to the past in search of Shakespeare, and finds in the Great Exhibition a Shakespeare surprisingly assimilated to the priorities of mechanical engineering and industrial design. Shuttling forward to 1951, he discovers similar evidence, including a steam locomotive named William Shakespeare. Inadvertently coming across the London Olympics in 2012 (by carelessly setting his GPS navigation system to ‘Stratford’), the Time Traveller encounters lines from The Tempest spoken by an impersonation of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. In this story historical, critical and scholarly questions are explored imaginatively in fictional form. For a critical account of the same material, see Graham Holderness, ‘Remembrance of Things Past’, in Celebrating Shakespeare: Commemoration and Cultural Memory, edited by Clara Calvo and Coppelia Kahn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015).

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