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Canonising Shakespeare in 1920s Japan

Tsubouchi Shōyō and the Translator’s Choice

Daniel Gallimore

In 1927, just before completing the first Japanese translation of Shakespeare’s Complete Works, Tsubouchi Shōyō (1859–1935) selected eight of his translations for inclusion in his own Selected Works, which were published in fifteen volumes in conclusion to his career as one of the leading exponents of cultural reform of his generation. His choice is idiosyncratic as it omits the plays that had become most popular during the period of Shakespeare’s initial reception in late nineteenth-century Japan, but includes a number that were relatively unknown, such as Measure for Measure. This article suggests likely reasons for his selection before discussing the comments he makes on each play in his translation prefaces, and thus provides an overview of what Tsubouchi had come to value about Shakespeare.

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Deconstructing the Saussurean System of Signification

Miyagi Satoshi and His Mimetic Dramaturgy in Miyagi-Noh Othello

Tomoka Tsukamoto and Ted Motohashi

Shakespeare’s Othello has been staged overwhelmingly through the racial relationship between the two protagonists, Othello and Iago, at the expense of another protagonist, Desdemona, partly because of the prominence of racial and military perspectives in European modernity, and partly because of the relatively scarce textual presence of Desdemona. Despite the tremendous efforts and contributions of feminist criticism to rectify the imbalance, this female protagonist has been enclosed in the realm of a patriarchal framework that divides women between ‘chaste wife’ and ‘villainous whore’. Miyagi Satoshi’s adaptation and staging of Miyagi-Noh Othello, presented at Shizuoka Arts Theatre in 2018, was a remarkable attempt to address this issue, by transforming the whole play into a memory recollected and enacted by the Ghost of Desdemona, through utilising the Japanese ‘Mugen-Noh’ format. Through his mimetic dramaturgy employing the ‘division of speech and movement’ method, Miyagi succeeded in recovering not only Desdemona’s testimonies regarding her affectionate and passionate relationship with Othello but also multiple women’s ‘her-stories’ hidden and disregarded by male-centred histories authorised by the Venetian ruling class. The detailed analysis of Miyagi’s unique and innovative production will unravel the complicated relationship between actors’ words and their bodies in theatrical productions, as well as offer a fresh insight into the hitherto underrated aspect of Othello as an alternative story of inducing everyone’s suffering into spiritual atonement by reviving the love which has always already been present even in a society torn by racism, genderism and militarism.

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Nikolaos Mavropoulos

In the wake of Italy’s unification, the country’s expansionist designs were aimed, as expected, toward the opposite shore of the Mediterranean. The barrage of developments that took place in this strategic area would shape the country’s future alliances and colonial policies. The fear of French aggression on the coast of North Africa drove officials in Rome to the camp of the Central Powers, a diplomatic move of great importance for Europe’s evolution prior to World War I. The disturbance of the Mediterranean balance of power, when France occupied Tunisia and Britain held Cyprus and Egypt, the inability to find a colony in proximity to Italy, and a series of diplomatic defeats led Roman officials to look to the Red Sea and to provoke war with the Ethiopian Empire.

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Hamlet and the 47 Ronin

Did Shakespeare Read Chushingura?

Graham Holderness

The importation of Shakespeare into Japan in the late 19th century and early 20th centuries, following the opening of Japan to the outside world effected by the Meiji empire, generated a culture clash between the antiquity of the plays themselves, and the identification of Shakespeare with modern English drama. Harue Tsutsumi’s play Kanadehon Hamlet explores this conflict, dramatizing the difficulties encountered by a troupe of Japanese actors attempting to perform Hamlet, when their deeper loyalty is to the traditional Japanese revenge play Kanadehon Chushingura. Homing in on a crucial moment in the development of Japanese theatre and Japanese culture, Tsutsumi uses these cultural clashes to map out the possibilities of common ground, the emergence within Japan first of an informed and educated understanding of western drama, and subsequently the development of specifically Japanese appropriations of Shakespeare in which the two cultures can achieve a complex but dynamic engagement.

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Hamlet through your legs’

Radical Rewritings of Shakespeare’s Tragedy in Japan

Kaori Ashizu

This article discusses four Hamlet adaptations produced in twentieth-century Japan: Naoya Shiga’s ‘Claudius’s Diary’ (1912), Hideo Kobayashi’s ‘Ophelia’s Testament’ (1931), Osamu Dazai’s New Hamlet (1941) and Shohei Ooka’s Hamlet’s Diary (1955). Though differently motivated, and written in different styles, they collectively make something of a tradition, each revealing a unique, unexpected interpretation of the famous tragedy. Read as a group, they thoroughly disprove the stereotypical view that Japan has generally taken a highly respectful, imitative attitude to Western culture and Shakespeare. Hamlet has certainly been revered in Japan as the epitome of Western literary culture, but these adaptations reveal complicated, ambivalent attitudes towards Shakespeare’s play: not only love and respect, but anxiety, competitiveness, resistance and criticism, all expressed alongside an opportunistic urge to appropriate the rich ‘cultural capital’ of the canonical work.

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Cultural Heritages and Their Transmission

Elizabeth C. Macknight

This Spring 2021 issue of Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques is about cultural heritages and their transmission, focusing on the period from the middle of the eighteenth century to the present. An important stimulus for the creation of the issue was the European Year of Cultural Heritage (EYCH) in 2018. There were four main themes for the EYCH: protection, engagement, sustainability, and innovation. National coordinators and local organizers of events and initiatives across the continent adopted the unifying slogan “Our Heritage. Where the past meets the future.” The articles brought together here serve as an invitation to readers to continue reflecting on subjects and questions that were at the heart of planning for and supporting public participation in EYCH 2018. The European Year of Cultural Heritage provided myriad opportunities to discover the roles played by individuals and groups in the preservation and valorization of natural sites and landscapes, public monuments, cultural institutions, artifacts, digital resources, and intangible cultural heritage. It highlighted educational initiatives to raise awareness of multiple, diverse cultural heritages within communities and to promote intercultural dialogue. It pushed governments and nongovernmental organizations to address matters of financial investment, legal accountability, partnership management, and the shaping of policies on conservation and ownership rights. It challenged professional historians as well as archivists, librarians, archeologists, conservators, and curators to think hard about widening access and about ways of integrating local, national, and international perspectives when communicating with audiences about surviving traces of the past.

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Graham Holderness

In Britain, from the nineteenth century onwards, the default ‘setting’ for Shakespeare’s plays (by which I mean costume, mise-en-scène, and assumed historical and cultural context) has been medieval and early modern: the time of the plays’ composition (late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries) or the time of their historical location (medieval Britain or Europe, ancient Greece or Rome, etc.). In this visual and physical context, Twelfth Night would normally be performed or imagined in Elizabethan or Jacobean, Macbeth and Hamlet in medieval, Julius Caesar in ancient Roman dress and settings. In the historical context of their original production, the plays were performed in contemporary dress with minimal mise-en-scène; through the Restoration and eighteenth century in fashionable modern dress and increasingly naturalistic settings. Today in Britain, Shakespeare can be performed in any style of costume, setting and cultural context, from the time of the plays’ reference to the immediate contemporary present, and often in an eclectic blend of some or all. But strong forces of tradition and cultural memory tie the plays, in their visual and physical realisation as well as their language, to the medieval and early modern past. We see this attachment in film versions of the plays and of Shakespeare’s life. We dress Shakespeare in the costumes of all the ages, but we know that he truly belongs, as in the various portraits, in doublet and ruff.

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Manufacturing Labor Discipline

Apprenticeship, Asymmetrical Knowledge, and Large-Scale Production in Britain and France, 1750–1820

Leonard N. Rosenband

Josiah Wedgwood, the Montgolfier family, and Samuel Bentham were leading producers during the early industrial era. A pottery manufacturer, a family of papermakers, and the Inspector-General of Britain’s Naval Works, they all occupied the highest perch in their fields. This article considers the efforts by these eminent figures to control the exercise and reproduction of skill in their shops. It examines their attempts to build internal labor markets and blend carefully trained, home-grown hands with novel systems of work discipline and fresh technologies. In doing so, this article assesses the success and limits of the entrepreneurial trio’s designs in the coming of mechanized production.

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Eloise Grey

This article takes a history of emotions approach to Scottish illegitimacy in the context of imperial sojourning in the early nineteenth century. Using the archives of a lower-gentry family from Northeast Scotland, it examines the ways in which emotional regimes of the East India Company and Aberdeenshire gentry intersected with the sexual and domestic lives of native Indian women, Scottish farm servant women, and young Scottish bachelors in India. Children of these relationships, White and mixed-race, were the focus of these emotional regimes. The article shows that emotional regimes connected to illegitimacy are a way of looking at the Scottish history of empire.

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Andreea Şerban

Manga – one of Japan’s cool cultural products – has undergone, over the past two and a half decades, a process of globalisation, of Western domestication. Manga versions of Shakespeare’s canonical works have long been appreciated for their educational value and ‘friendly’ introduction to Shakespeare’s dense, multilayered texts. Starting from two Western manga transmediations of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, this article focuses on new interpretations given to the character of Ophelia and her interactions with Hamlet, as they become more and more public and monitored. I will show that manga brings to light (or life?) fresh aspects of Ophelia as well as of Hamlet, particularly through the use of chibi, enriching the number of Ophelia’s afterlives either by means of aggression or modern technologies, while also ensuring that Shakespeare remains a writer for all times.