“But Shakespeare is German!”

Where does national identity fit into a ‘World Shakespeare Festival’?

One of the most high profile strands of the Cultural Olympiad has been the World Shakespeare Festival. In planning since 2007, the festival was designed to “celebrate Shakespeare as the world’s playwright”, and has been a central feature of this summer’s London 2012 Festival. A highlight of the programme was the Globe to Globe season at Shakespeare’s Globe: a remarkable attempt to stage thirty-seven of Shakespeare’s plays in thirty-seven different languages over just six weeks. In many respects, the season can be seen as a form of cultural analogue to the sporting Games that will begin in just eight days time – celebrating the ‘Yard Olympians’ (the 117 dedicated audience members who were brave enough to stand for every show) and the ‘Olympic stamina’ of the actors and companies involved.

My interest in the Globe to Globe and World Shakespeare Festival is two-fold. On the one hand, I’m keen to examine the ways in which Shakespeare becomes the focus for cultural transfers and transformations, especially in the framework of the Olympiad, with its double prerogative of celebrating both UK and global culture. What event could better respond to this need, you might think, than a World Shakespeare Festival? On the other hand, I’m also fascinated by the ways in which the rhetoric of a ‘global Shakespeare’ potentially elides or replaces national narratives. Where does nation fit in to our image of a ‘World Shakespeare?’

Working in the German Department at King’s, my particular interest is in the relationship between Shakespeare and Germany, not least since Shakespeare is often called an honorary German (something that regularly comes as a surprise to those used to thinking of him as the ‘British Bard’). In the words of Patrick Spottiswoode, the Director of Globe Education, “there has been a strong love of Shakespeare in Germany amongst actors, scholars and writers since the late 18th century”. Given that Shakespeare arguably belongs as much to a German cultural tradition as an English one, perhaps we should begin to question whether German interpretations of Shakespeare can even be read as ‘appropriations’ of English culture, or whether Shakespeare has truly ‘gone native’ in Germany?

This is just one of the issues I consider in my podcast on the Globe to Globe Festival and the German production of Timon of Athens by the Bremer Shakespeare Company, which you can find below. Click on the player to listen, or visit the podcasts page of the King’s News Centre and iKing’s to discover more lectures and podcasts from King’s College London academics.

Dr Ben Schofield, Department of German

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