Richard III is one of Shakespeare’s best-known characters, a familiarity independent of the history plays, Henry VI and Richard III, in which he appears. This celebrity has less to do with Richard’s historical reputation, and more with the way in which great actors of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries gave the role status and popular visibility, particularly perhaps via Laurence Olivier’s 1955 film version. Just as Hamlet is automatically identifi able by black suit and prop skull, Richard is immediately recognisable by his legendary deformity (mandatory hump, optional limp), and by the famous opening line of his initial soliloquy: ‘Now is the winter of our discontent’.
Sulayman Al-Bassam's Richard III and Political Theatre
Some Further Account of the Life &c. of Mr. William Shakespear, with Corrections Made to the First and Second Editions, and with the Supplementation of New Matter Acquir'd from Diligent Researches in the Publick Records, and from Conversations Mr. Betterton had with the people of Stratford-upon-Avon (1715)
IT seems to be a kind of Respect due to the Memory of Excellent Men, especially of those whom their Wit and Learning have made Famous, to deliver some Account of themselves, as well as their Works, to Posterity. For this Reason, how fond do we see some People of discovering any little Personal Story of the great Men of Antiquity, their Families, the common Accidents of their Lives, and even their Shape,Make and Features have been the Subject of critical Enquiries. How trifling soever this Curiosity may seem to be, it is certainly very Natural; and we are hardly satisfy'd with an Account of any remarkable Person, 'till we have heard him describ'd even to the very Cloaths he wears. As for what relates to Men of Letters, the knowledge of an Author may sometimes conduce to the better understanding his Book.
the Courtly and the Popular in The Merry Wives of Windsor
This paper explores the controversy as to whether The Merry Wives of Windsor is a celebration of royal and aristocratic power and of an imagined national community, or a suburban comedy whose viewpoint is that of the contemporary English middle-class. Drawing on recent work on female authority in household and community, it is suggested that Shakespeare's Windsor is not only discontinuous with the culture of nobility, but is presented as a parallel world or alternative universe where things are done quite differently. The play thus engages in a critique of the aristocratic values embodied in the Order of the Garter, and offers an alternative source of power in the domestic lives of ordinary women.
The continuous active presence within contemporary culture of a body of work such as Shakespeare's induces that form of amnesis encapsulated in Ben Jonson's phrase 'not for an age, but for all time': that the past may be eternally present. Rituals of commemoration, such as the annual 'Shakespeare's Birthday Celebrations' held in Stratford-upon-Avon, can operate to cultivate such obliviousness, as if the author were still alive and still piling on the years. A number of modern critical strategies in literary theory, historical analysis, textual editing, and creative appropriation have offered ways of generating anamnesis, jolting the reader into remembering that the past and the present are radically discontinuous. When Heminge and Condell introduced the First Folio, they explicitly connected the absence of the author, by death departed, with the posthumous reconstruction of his works. Their language mingles epitaph and preface, mourning and celebration. The plays, maimed, and deformed, dispersed like scattered body parts, are here restored and reanimated; but their completeness is haunted by the death of their author. The edited plays now stand in for the Shakespearean body, pieced together and made whole, cur'd, and perfect of their limbes. A living monument, a resurrection of the dead, a corpse re-membered. But what is the relationship between memory and the reality it remembers? In the garden of the church of St Mary the Virgin in Aldermanbury a memorial plaque, dedicated in 1896 to Heminge and Condell, states that the world owes to them 'all that it calls Shakespeare'; in other words, all that we have left. This monument ironically commemorates not Shakespeare, but Shakespeare's first editors; memorializes not the author, but the process via which the author's works are transmitted to the modern reader and playgoer. Shakespeare's grave in Holy Trinity Church may also be, metaphorically and even perhaps literally, an empty tomb. This paper examines the interactions of memory as recollection and memory as re-membering.
Jim Crace's novel Quarantine purports to be a text of 'post-Dawkins scientific atheism'. It re-sets the mystical gospel story of the Temptation in the Wilderness into a materialist universe where only the laws of nature preside, and thus converges on a well-established fictional form, the naturalistic biographical representation of Jesus in a fully realised historical setting. The Messianic claims of Jesus are assumed to evaporate under this scrutiny, and the truth-claims of religion itself to crumble beneath the application of scientific observation and the invocation of scientific laws. In the event however the novel discloses an imaginative and visionary realm in which miracles, for which there is no naturalistic explanation, happen. Holderness argues that like other agnostic writers who engage with Jesus, Crace is to some degree of God's party without knowing it.
Though it may seem perverse – Shakespeare being synonymous with creativity itself – to speak of ‘creating’ that which is already so manifestly and abundantly created, Shakespeare criticism and scholarship is tending increasingly towards the view that every act of scholarly reproduction, critical interpretation, theatrical performance, stage and screen adaptation, or fictional appropriation produces a new and hitherto unconceived Shakespeare. This volume presents discursive evidence to support this hypothesis in relation to the fields of transcultural reproduction, screen adaptation, theatrical improvisation and fictional re-writing.
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).
Shakespeare and the Canon
The literary canon is commonly thought of as ancient, accepted and agreed, and consistent between high and popular cultures. This article demonstrates the falsity of these assumptions, and argues that the canon is always provisional, contingent, iterable and overdetermined by multiple consequences of cultural struggle. Using definitions of canonicity from Harold Bloom, Frank Kermode and Pierre Bourdieu, the article shows how the canon is produced, consumed and reproduced. Picking up on Harold Bloom's use of a poem by Wallace Stevens, the article explores the impact of Arabic adaptations of Shakespeare on canon formation and canonicity.
The Complex Legacy of Political Shakespeare
This article was delivered in the plenary session of the Shakespeare Association of America's annual meeting in St Louis, April 2014, alongside papers from Ania Loomba and Jonathan Dollimore, also for the first time published in this volume. The purpose of the panel was to commemorate and celebrate two important critical texts whose anniversaries fell at that time: Jonathan Dollimore's Radical Tragedy, published in 1984, and Political Shakespeare (1985), edited by Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield, which went into its second edition in 1994. This article discusses the impact and influence of Political Shakespeare, to which I was a contributor.
Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, The Invisible Gorilla (New York: Random House, 2009).
Laurie Johnson, John Sutton, and Evelyn Tribble, eds, Embodied Cognition and Shakespeare’s Theatre (London: Routledge, 2014).
Jacques Ranciere, trans. Gabriel Rockhill, The Politics of Aesthetics: The Distribution of the Sensible (London: Bloomsbury, 2004).
David Hillman, Shakespeare’s Entrails: Belief, Scepticism and the Interior of the Body (London: Palgrave, 2007).