Sea-Change Across the Intercultural Divide:
Shakespearean Performance and Debates

Convenors: Alexander Huang (Pennsylvania State University, US) and Isabelle Schwartz-Gastine (University of Caen, France)

The seminar welcomes papers on Shakespeare in performance in any period that participate in or initiate debates—theory, praxis, reception—in Europe and worldwide. During his lifetime, Shakespeare’s plays were performed in Europe and subsequently taken to remote corners of the globe, including Sierra Leone, Socotra, and colonial Indonesia. Performances in England also had a global flair. European visitors such as Thomas Platter witnessed the plays on stage at the Globe (1599) and left behind diary records. Four centuries on, there has been a sea change. In theatre, Shakespeare has been recruited, exemplified, resisted, and debated in post/colonial encounters, in the international avant-garde led by Ariane Mnouchkine, Ninagawa Yukio, Peter Brook, Tadashi Suzuki, and others, and in the circuits of global politics and tourism in late capitalist societies.

The purpose of this seminar is to take stock of the worldwide histories of performance and criticism to uncover any blind spots in current methodologies to study the theoretical and artistic implications of Shakespeare and the cultures of diaspora, Anglophone countries, Europe, Russia, Africa, the Arab world, Asia, Latin America and elsewhere.

Localized and globalized Shakespeares are undoubtedly prominent genres of national and intercultural theatres today. It is important to understand how this came to be, why Shakespeare has been called upon to help transform theatrical practices around the world, and what kinds of force—political, aesthetic or otherwise—are shaping the performative Shakespeare we know today. In the decades since J. L. Styan’s The Shakespeare Revolution (1977) which makes a case for “stage-centered criticism,” the study of Shakespeare in performance has come a long way, now established as a widely recognized field. Two challenges remain. As artists struggle with fixated notions of tradition, critics are no longer confined by the question of narrowly defined cultural authenticity. However, what are the new paradigms that can help us avoid replicating the old author-centered textuality in performance criticism? What critical resources might we bring to the task of interpreting sets of behaviors and signs in performance? What is the role of local and global spectators? More importantly, what is the task of criticism as it deals with the transformations of Shakespeare and various performance idioms?

Topics to be examined might include, but not limited to:

  • The place of Shakespearean performance in critical debates about authenticity and national identities
  • The role of Shakespeare in fostering productive exchanges between cultures
  • The role of Shakespeare in performance theories and practices
  • The tension between the spectator’s presence and performance


“Disaster and After: Hamlet as Metaphor in Fin-de-siècle Spain”
Keith Gregor
University of Murcia, Spain

The paper will explore the philosophical debates raging in Spain following naval defeat by the US in 1898 and the subsequent loss of its last colonies in the Caribbean and the Pacific. Facing what they regarded as a debilitating pessimism and paralysis—a result of humiliation by a vastly superior and technologically advanced power—a group of intellectuals launched a strident campaign aimed at rebooting the nation’s social, economic and cultural identity, in which the Spanish nation was imaginatively recast as a kind of Hamlet awaiting the arrival of Fortinbras. As well as considering the relevance of the Hamlet trope to the conditions of turn-of-the-century Spain, including the conditions of cultural mechanisms such as the stage, the paper will relate the metaphor to wider European developments in identity (re)construction and the (as yet) ill-defined role of the avant-garde. It is not, I believe, entirely accidental that, in Spain’s case at least, the Fortinbras fixation would (often unwittingly) betray a fascination with more authoritarian forms of government, intellectually paving the way for the rise of fascism. The paper will thus also dwell on the broader ideological implications of the regenerationist turn to gauge the extent to which the ‘sea-change’ it had in mind was a realistic or even a desirable one.


“Local cosmopolitanism in Portuguese performances of Shakespeare”
Francesca Rayner
Universidade do Minho, Portugal

Historically, performances of Shakespeare in Portugal have been strongly focused on the local, both in terms of intended audience and considerations of the contemporary relevance of the plays. From the ‘90’s onwards, however, with the impetus towards greater European economic and cultural integration, some Portuguese theatres have extended this local focus to include performances by visiting companies from, for example, France, England and Spain. However, these exchanges have tended to be exclusively within the European context and have rarely contemplated what Fernando Mora Ramos (2009:39) has referred to as “the geography of its own language,” in other words, performances in Portuguese from the post-colonial diaspora of Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau or Goa. Moreover, even with inter-European exchanges, these have invariably been unidirectional, for Portuguese performances of Shakespeare have not travelled to other European countries for return performances.

Many visiting productions of Shakespeare since the ‘90’s have been performed at Portugal’s second national theatre, the Teatro Nacional São João in Porto, a theatre that has received much critical praise as simultaneously locally relevant, nationally responsive and internationally informed. The São João has welcomed European theatre practitioners such as Silviu Purcarete and Cheek by Jowl, while its promotion of international festivals such as the Festival of Iberian Theatre and the Porto-Natal International Theatre Festival has provided a context for visiting productions outside the European context.

The aim of this paper is to examine the work of the São João in terms of a locally-based cosmopolitanism. While the local and the cosmopolitan have more often been cast critically as antagonistic, this paper will argue that they might constitute complementary and mutually-reinforcing responses to globalization. While conscious of the exclusions mobilised by both terms, it argues that both have a central role in discussions of cultural mobility within performance studies of Shakespeare.


“Shaking Shakespeare from the Margins: Theatre, Performance and Citizenship in Colonial India”
Alessandra Marino
The Open University

During colonialism, British education provided a common language to break the cage of British hegemony and Shakespeare was both appropriated and refused on stage to express political messages. Shakespeare’s ambivalent, interstitial position, as a representative of imperialism and a fierce rebel, enabled to perform practices of resistance against the foreign domination. The fundamental ambiguity of the playwright’s figure stimulated the proliferation of critical and theatrical productions challenging the unity a macro-Shakespearean text. This paper deals with the production of theatrical works in Calcutta in the nineteenth century to demonstrate how, at half of the century, Shakespeare’s authority was subjected to a radical reconsideration. Using a Foucauldian framework to engage the notion of “colonial archive”, I analyze the reviews of two tragedies: a famous 1848 Othello and a 1854 Julius Caesar, performed to express bitter dissent against the imperial tyranny. Appropriating, cutting and interpreting these plays, colonial subjects set them free from the orthodoxy of pedagogic interpretations and engage a process of Indianization of the Bard leading to a fruitful interpretation of the meaning of imperial citizenship.


“Closer to the Stage — Closer to Shakespeare?”
Agnese Mortukāne
Latvia University

The notion of tension between spectators and audience has been altered radically especially in the last decades. The previous relationship between the actors on the stage and the audience in the hall has changed to much closer contact when the spectators surround the space of acting and face the actors as close as their neighbours in the seats. The paper deals with the essence of these changes and tries to find the privileges or, perhaps, also the drawbacks of this new mutual relationship exactly in the performances of Shakespeare’s great tragedies, King Lear, Hamlet and Othello. At first thought these plays do not seem the most suitable material for such kind of performances. However, several examples of Shakespeare performances in Latvian theatre have proved the opposite, they are highly evaluated by the critics and very popular with the audiences.  


“Early 20th C. European Touring Stars and the Distinction of the Spanish Actor-Manager”
Juan F. Cerdá
University of Murcia, Spain

Although performed in Italian to a homogeneous Spanish-speaking crowd, Ermete Zacconi’s premiere of Othello at the Comedia theatre in Madrid, in 1901, was the single most profitable box-office success of a Shakespearean performance in Spain during much of the twentieth century. Regardless of addressing the local audience in a foreign language, this and other Shakespearean performances by European touring stars — his fellow-Italian Ermete Novelli and the French Sarah Bernhardt, among others — constituted a theatrical model of prestige to be mimicked by a few Spanish actor-managers — Emilio Thuillier, José Tallaví, Ricardo Calvo, Francisco Morano, Enrique Borrás and Margarita Xirgu — who took their Shakespearean performances around the nation and even as far as the former Spanish colonies in Latin America. This paper examines the influence of these European stars and the concrete functions Shakespearean drama was made to fulfil in the repertoires of the Spanish actor-managers, as it traces the ramifications and hierarchies produced in the cultural exchange between Europe and, eventually, Latin America. It explores the distinctive role of Shakespearean drama in the formation of the European actor-manager’s profile and historicises the construction of Shakespeare, from the Spanish perspective, as a signifier for cultural distinction on the European stage.