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Shakespeare Beyond English: A Global Experiment

Posted on 24/08/2012

As part of the Cultural Olympics the Globe to Globe Festival hosted 37 productions of Shakespeare’s plays in 37 different languages over a six week period starting on 21 April 2012. The Shakespeare Beyond English project brings together both academics and practitioners who are familiar with the performance cultures represented and with the plays in performance to discuss, analyse and respond to this festival. Further information about this festival and its performances can be found on the Globe to Globe Wikipedia page.

Coriolanus in Japanese by Chiten (C) Simon Annand
Coriolanus in Japanese by Chiten © Simon Annand, image courtesy Shakespeare's Globe blog

The project is co-coordinated by Dr Christie Carson, a specialist in contemporary Shakespeare in Performance based in the English Department at Royal Holloway, University of London and by Professor Susan Bennett, an internationally renowned performance studies scholar based at the University of Calgary.

In order to provide a record and critical context for this event and to further the relationship between the Globe Theatre and the academic community an edited collection of essays has been commissioned by Cambridge University Press. The collection will include both academics and practitioners who are familiar with the performance cultures represented and with the plays in performance. Contributors to the project were asked to post their initial responses to the Festival shows on the Globe’s own blog and these short accounts of the wonderful array of productions provide an immediate sense of the range of issues this book will address.

Henry V in English by Shakespeare's Globe Theatre (c) John Haynes
Henry V in English by Shakespeare's Globe Theatre © John Haynes, image courtesy Shakespeare's Globe blog

This project follows on from the work undertaken in Shakespeare’s Globe: A Theatrical Experiment (edited by Christie Carson and Farah Karim-Cooper, CUP, 2008) which documented the experiences of the first artistic team working in this now iconic theatrical space. Combining this approach to documenting the practical work of the Globe Theatre with an interest in intercultural theatre and international audiences this project will produce a sourcebook for students, scholars and the many members of the audience who attended this extraordinary Festival. The academic discourse that surrounds theatrical performance presumes a certain distance from the subjects of research for the sake of objectivity but in this case the editors want to challenge that approach by making the identity of both the ‘stranger’ and the ‘local’ more problematic. As a result the project brings together contributors who will be writing in response to their Festival experience who are intimately involved either in the performance culture of the visiting company or the performance history of the particular play being performed. In a sense what is being set up is two opposing forms of cultural authority, scholarly knowledge and biographical heritage and experience. Which of these two types of understanding will prove most useful in assessing the quality and impact of each of these performances?

Increasingly we have available to us as scholars, but also as citizens of the online world, a wide range of intercultural Shakespeares. This project aims to question the notion of access: to see whether physical access, cultural access and intellectual access coincide or come into conflict in this Festival. The fact that all of the performances have been filmed and streamed online at The Space while the Festival was on has meant that these shows could be appreciated all over the world, not just in London. But many of the productions opened in their home countries or returned to their home countries after their visit to the Globe to perform for a ‘local’ audience. The Festival therefore creates a truly unique experience in developing a global audience for Shakespearean performance and testing what audiences all over the world make of these well known and well loved plays.

Twelfth Night in Hindi by Company Theatre (c) Simon Annand
Twelfth Night in Hindi by Company Theatre © Simon Annand, image courtesy Shakespeare's Globe blog

Shakespeare Beyond English will interrogate the significance of Shakespeare as an ‘Olympic currency’ and national brand and how bringing non-English language productions of the plays to the London stage inscribes the capital city both as Shakespeare’s ‘natural’ home and as a global centre.  The Globe2Globe Festival challenges usual conditions of audience reception and, thus, the project seeks to address production strategies for engaging a spectatorship who might literally not understand a word they hear or who might, in contrast, hear Shakespeare for the first time in ‘their’ language.  

Two events are being supported by the CITPR:

  1. A symposium on first reactions, documentation, archiving and the questions that need to be asked. Held at Shakespeare's Globe 8 June 2012. Click here for blogs of initial reactions.
  2. A symposium was held in Stratford-upon-Avon on 5 August 2012.


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