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‘All the world's a [post-apocalyptic] stage’

The Future of Shakespeare in Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven

Charles Conaway

Abstract

Emily St. John Mandel's 2014 novel, Station Eleven, follows the Traveling Symphony, a small troupe of actors and musicians who perform concerts and stage Shakespeare's plays in the scattered communities of survivors of an influenza pandemic. Tattooed on the arm of Kirsten Raymonde, an actress in the troupe, are the words ‘Because survival is insufficient’, a phrase borrowed from Star Trek: Voyager, indicating that the works of Shakespeare and Beethoven can enrich the lives of the survivors of the pandemic. But even if survival in this post-apocalyptic landscape is considered insufficient, it cannot be taken for granted. In a world without electricity and modern technology, encounters with strangers on the road occasionally turn confrontational, even deadly. The novel thus dramatises a constant struggle that complicates the idea that survival is insufficient, and ceaselessly probes the notion that Beethoven and Shakespeare can enrich our lives in post-apocalyptic times.