“All the world’s a stage” (no. 12 in series)

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In the run-up to The Ninth World Shakespeare Congress in Prague I posted a selection of blogs from grant winners looking forward to that event. Over the next couple of weeks I will be posting a selection of blogs from some  more of those grant winners.  This week’s contribution comes from Dmytro Drozdovskyi, who is a fellow of the department of world literature of T. Shevchenko Institute of Literature (Kyiv, Ukraine).


IX Shakespearean Congress in Prague became a great academic and cultural event not only for the Czech Republic but also for the world Shakespearean community. And, of course, that was the first meeting in the post-Soviet country. I must say that the last plenary section about theatre life and Shakespeare in Prague, and the totalitarian experience is very close to what we had in Ukraine. The Shakespearean performances in Prague were a kind of protest against Soviet inhabitance and tyranny. Maybe in Kyiv in 1960s, the image of Cervantes’s Don Quixote was like a Shakespearean imagery for Prague. That was a time of crazy ambiguity, mental harassment, and anti-cultural regime. Our writers were like both Hamlet and Don Quixote, they had a dream; they believed in future art based on aesthetics and not ideology. In this way, Robert Sturua’s speech was not only very informative for me but also it appealed to my emotional experience. 4 years ago I published a book about Ukrainian culture and literature of the 1960s. It was highly important for me to know about the reception of Macbeth in Prague and the role of this tragedy as the anti-colonial mechanism, as a key against Soviet colonialism. “Macbeth, Goddard says, is a milestone in man’s exploration of precisely this ‘depth of things’ which our age calls the unconscious” (Goddard, The Meaning of Shakespeare: 119).

And of course I must assume that the postcolonial and feministic problematic of Shakespearean interpretations is very awe-inspiring for me. However, one speaker said that we do not need to adjust theories to the text. I am absolutely sure that Shakespeare’s textual sphere is the key sphere in all our talks and discussions. However, sometimes a good theory is the best plasticizing.

My congress presentation was about Shakespeare’s interpretations in Lovely Bones (film was based on the novel.) It was a comparative-oriented research. I am really grateful to my section facilitators from theUS andCyprus who did so much to circulate important questions, organize our seminar (even several months before the final meeting), and evoke a really brilliant discussion at the end. And of course, the atmosphere of tolerance and cooperation was really helpful.

My academic work here in Ukraineis connected with the reception of Shakespeare in Ukrainian emigration culture of the XX Century. Professor Krystyna Kujawinska from Polandalso recommended me to present this study at one of the further congresses. A very good recommendation (by the way, now I am working on the article for Shakespeare Multicultural)! This time I had my first meeting with Shakespeare and the world community of his friends and promoters. So I have chosen a topic which will not only provide the information about something new but will be discussible, as the book and the movie have ‘English-speaking’ origin.

This Congress helped me much in understanding Shakespeare’s world. Shakespeare is a ‘unique’ author. Dmytro Chyzhevskyi, the President of the Ukrainian Shakespearean Association (in exile), in 1960s wrote that Macbeth could be performed “both as a criminal or as a brave man affected by his demonic wife, or else as a sentimental person with an extended imagination. The “demonical” in “Macbeth” and “historiosophy” in “King Henry IV”, as well as much of that which is thought contradictory and mysterious…”. The issue of omnipresent imagery is analyzed by Chyzhevskyi, who pays attention to the fact that Shakespearean interior in his plays is not a stable and static field as it could be altered with the support of human will. The poet creates for his characters occasions to “change their dresses” (reinforcement by parody: Falstaff travestied to the King and to the King’s son, in the famous scene 1, ii. iv). He is equally interested, in both positive and negative, in virtue and crime…” The Congress helped me to understand what it means.

This important concept of changing dresses was presented in so many speeches. Representism, Marxism and Neo-Marxism, new historicism, structuralism, deconstruction… they all wear different dresses on Shakespeare. And maybe this is a key to understand the specific features of such kind of writings. Shakespeare created matrices for psychology, psychic patterns which can be changed in different times, but he found the essence of the human being as an actor on the world stage. Transgression is what we value much in Shakespeare, and this makes Shakespeare interesting and awe-inspiring for his contemporary readers (and we all are his readers despite our level of expertise). The plays demonstrate that a human being could be a changeable being for all her or his life. In this case, the new humanity models were represented in Shakespeare’s texts, new forms of the human identity and civilization gestalt which create a special sort of universality.

Sometimes, I think that Shakespeare used humor and magic while, for example, Ben Jonson provided intellectual logical clues in his plays. For Jonson, there was only one solution, one way to solve the problem, one possible ending of the tragedy. In his works, the final episode is constructed as an opposite binary to what we had in the beginning. Shakespearean characters are multifaceted; he can do this and that. And the author even had to discipline his characters, to find the well-prepared canvas for uncontrolled actions.

However, this point needs more details to take into account.

First, we must agree that Ben Jonson was the author of the ‘divine human comedy’ which was written according to the specific well-organized plan. He was the philosopher of the ‘world theatre’, but Shakespeare was the dramatis without any conception.

For the dramatist (and director) it is always difficult to decide whether he could have a chance to give his or her actors any plan, or his work will be adjusted to the actor’s improvisation. The Congress helped me to understand Shakespeare’s world as both discursive and theatrical. I also met new friends and colleagues. It was so lovely to meet Prof. Irene Makaryk (who is of the Ukrainian origin). I wish that more Shakespearean scholars from Ukraine attended this event in future. I still do not know the exact address of the Congress in 2016 (France or the UK) but still now I am waiting for this great academic meeting.

Prof. Clemen write in one work that Shakespeare did not leave the theme of love, friendship or time as it was, but he “expands it into a little digression, transforms it into a conceit or into a well-defined maxim.” I think this Congress also transformed these themes into a maxim. And I am grateful so much to the Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust in Stratford and especially Dr. Nick Walton for the financial support which made my trip to Prague possible.

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (along with Charles University, Prague, and The International Shakespeare Association) sponsored individuals from Argentina, Romania, Hungary, India, Russia, Canada, Poland, Australia, New Zealand, Greece, and Chile to attend the World Shakespeare Congress 2011.  Make sure that you follow this series to hear from more of our award winners  who will be talking about the ways in which Shakespeare is a subject for research, performance, and conversation across the globe.

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Author:Nick Walton

Nick Walton is a Lecturer in Shakespeare Studies at The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

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