Widely regarded as the most significant writer in the English language, William Shakespeare’s (1564-1616) plays have been translated into more than 80 languages and continue to be performed on stages around the world.
Alexa Huang teaches in the English Department at George Washington University. Her most recent book is Shakespeare and the Ethics of Appropriation (co-edited with Elizabeth Rivlin; Palgrave, 2014). She is founding co-director of the Digital Humanities Institute, and has co-founded and co-directs the MIT Global Shakespeares digital performance archive. She chairs the Modern Language Association committee on the New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare.
Simply Charly: You were recently awarded the Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Global Shakespeare. How does this award reflect your efforts and work thus far in the world of Shakespeare?
Alexa Huang: This is a tremendous opportunity. It is humbling to be part of an international team in London and Warwick that studies and researches Shakespeare and globalization. The fellowship gives me the opportunity to teach and do research in London, to attend events and performances with the team, and to work with colleagues at Warwick and to take advantage of its connections with the Royal Shakespeare Company, its proximity to Stratford-upon-Avon, and Warwick’s research library resources especially the university’s subscription to such databases as BoB: Box of Broadcasts by the British Universities Film & Video Council.
The fellowship allows me to continue my effort to promote the study of Shakespeare and globalization, and it helps me expand my own worldviews and research methods by giving me the opportunity to teach and do research in another culture. I have learned first hand how Shakespeare is taught in the UK. Conducting research here in London on touring theater and the major festival “Globe-to-Globe,” and “World Shakespeare Festival” is both overwhelming and exciting.
SC: While there are many scholars of Shakespeare, not all of them connect him and his works to other cultures. What inspired you to link the world of Shakespeare to world cultures, and have your views on either changed throughout the process?
AH: I was inspired to link the world of Shakespeare to world cultures today because that is what “Shakespeare” is about: a transnational and trans-historical body of texts.
I was inspired to study global performances of Shakespeare because there are many silenced or redacted stories. The cultures, works, and words that go under the name of “Shakespeare” never cease to fascinate me.
“Global Shakespeare” is a term I coined for the open-access digital archive and my theorization of Shakespearean performance. The term signals the need to study Shakespeare in a comparative context. I have always been passionate about resonant and different voices in storytelling. Studying Shakespeare and globalization has changed how I think about both Shakespearean plays and world cultures today.
Recognized for its artistic creativity and now established as a field of scholarly inquiry, “global Shakespeare” remains an ostracizing label, categorizing a group of cultural products that can conveniently be cordoned off. Even though Shakespeare’s tragedies, comedies, and history plays undeniably intertwined with the history of many theatrical traditions, global Shakespeare does not quite fit comfortably into any discipline.
The unique challenge also brings rewards for those who stand up to the challenge. With the dramatically increased availability of primary research material through digital video archives, the field will, one hopes eventually, move toward a mode of inquiry that inherently considers performances in comparative contexts.
As the field matures, Shakespeare in performance may no longer require such qualifying adjectives as Asian, European, African, or even “global.”
SC: In the prologue of your book, Chinese Shakespeares: Two Centuries of Cultural Exchange, you mention that “myths tend to stay” when referring to Chinese culture and Shakespeare. How do the myths surrounding Shakespeare enable his works to persist throughout time? Do you see the same pattern in Chinese myths? If so, how do the two different realms find a place in one another?
AH: The myths surrounding Shakespeare’s universality—how his storytelling modes “naturally” resonate with various cultures across historical and geographical divides—has persisted throughout time. The myth about an inscrutable China has also endured.
The habitual mystification of Shakespeare and China is present in many other areas. For example, Hamlet has a mythical status as the play that has already begun for the audiences; it has led to the perpetuation of set images and ideas, such as Yorick’s skull in the prince’s hand. Politicians and directors have used Shakespeare to construct a sense of nationhood. Shakespeare’s plays, having achieved a mythical status, have continued to generate more myths. As for China, it becomes the ultimate foreign story because its language seems unknowable and indecipherable, personal names are “backwards” (surnames come first), and cultural values totally alien.
When China meets Shakespeare, more myths tend to be created. The tautology hinders our understanding of globalization. Shakespeare going global is not news anymore, and when something becomes habitually familiar, it is not properly known simply because it seems to be “well known.”
For example, despite dramatic changes in the styles of Chinese opera and in the definition of Chinese identities, the former continues to be seen by both Chinese and Western artists and audiences as the quintessential representation of Chinese-ness. When Chinese directors speak of Chinese opera adaptations of Shakespeare, they tend to emphasize the perceived affinity between Chinese opera and Shakespearean aesthetics (such as minimalist stage sets and stylization). As a result, they create the impression that Western theater verbalizes, while East Asian theater visualizes, as if Shakespearean theater is about verbal articulation (“speak the speech”) and East Asian actors embody the visual codes. Chinese opera directors’ stylized approach and focus on allegory can work well to let us see dimensions of a Shakespearean play that is otherwise dormant, but it is problematic to let the verbal-visual dichotomy dictate our appreciation of operatic Shakespeare.
Between 1839, when Shakespeare was part of an ideological war, and the present, when the “Chinese Shakespeares” have become a vital force in many cultural locations, the distance between world cultures has shrunk (because of colonialism and globalization) and grown (because of war and misunderstanding).
While in our times the presence of Shakespeare in world cultures appears to be ordinary and commonplace, the global history of Shakespeare’s afterlife reveals the limit of the universal as an artistic concept.
Global Shakespeares encourage artists and audiences to see, and be seen, from afar.
SC: Shakespeare’s plays have been translated into numerous languages and performed all across the world. What do you think attracts other cultures to Shakespeare?
AH: To perform a canonical foreign work in other languages is to bring another culture into the canon, and that in itself is an exciting artistic and creative opportunity. As Lost in Translation (2003), directed by Sofia Coppola, aptly shows, translation can be an emancipating experience as it activates certain aspects of a text or cultural experience that would otherwise remain hidden from view.
One of the most thought-provoking cases of literary translation is Shakespeare. He is the most widely translated secular author in the past centuries, with several editions in many languages (e.g., the Complete Works has been translated into German a number of times, beginning with the German Romantics, into Brazilian Portuguese by Carlos Alberto Nunes in 1955-67, and by Carlos de Almeida Cunha Medeiros and Oscar Mendes in 1969). A great deal of Shakespeare’s extensive, transnational afterlife takes place in languages other than English, in particular translations in the modern forms of these languages. Shakespeare’s oeuvre is present on every populated continent, with sign-language renditions and recitations in Klingon in the Star Trek to boot.
There are many reasons why other cultures may be interested in Shakespeare. Some historians have suggested colonialism as a factor in Shakespeare’s worldwide reach, while others believe the inherent literary and moral merits of Shakespeare’s plays are the reason for his popularity. I believe his appeal lies not necessarily only in his poetry (which some believe to be untranslatable), but rather, in the philosophy and narrative modes embedded within the drama.
Great ideas transcend historical and cultural boundaries and can be articulated in many forms and languages. Shakespeare lends himself to translation—many directors believe that Shakespeare in translation is more effective for modern audiences from other cultures.
Encountering these plays through refreshing performances in new contexts can reinvigorate our dulled senses. Shakespeare in translation doesn’t take away from the Bard. Instead, it makes his work more relevant to a worldwide audience.
One example is a scene from Shakespeare’s bloodiest play, Titus Andronicus, where Lavinia, Titus’s daughter, is raped and her hands and tongue are cut off. How should actors perform this scene on stage?
If you do it literally, you run the risk of diminishing Shakespeare’s tragedy into parody. Too much violence can become comical and unreal. Too little, and you fail to convey the weight of the tragedy.
One director from Japan, Yukio Ninagawa, had a solution. He used red silk streamers to portray blood flowing from Lavinia after the attack.
It’s beautiful and eerie at the same time. This is one example of how different interpretations can transform our understanding of the play.
Within Shakespeare’s plays, the figure of translation looms large. Translational moments create comic relief and heighten the awareness that communication is not a given. Translation also served as a metaphor for physical transformation or transportation. Claudius speaks of Hamlet’s “transformation” (2.2.5) and asks Gertrude to “translate” Hamlet’s behaviors in the previous scene (the closet scene) so that Claudius can “understand … the profound heaves” (4.1.2). Gertrude not only relays what Hamlet has just done, but also provides her interpretations, as a translator would, of her son’s deeds.
More so than Hamlet, Henry V contains several instances of literal translation, including the well-known wooing scene. Translation serves as a figure of transport, theft, transfer of property, and change across linguistic and national boundaries, as the characters and audience are ferried back and forth across the Channel. The peace negotiations dictate that the English monarch marries the daughter of Charles VI of France, uniting the two kingdoms. The “broken English” (5.2.228) in the light-hearted scene symbolizes Henry V’s dominance over Catherine and France after the English victory at the Battle of Agincourt. The English conqueror pretends to be a wooer to Catherine, who cannot reject him freely. One is unsure whether Catherine is speaking the truth that she does not understand English well enough (“I cannot tell”) or just being coy—playing Henry’s game, though Catherine eventually yields to his request: “Dat is as it shall please de roi mon père” (5.2.229). Shakespeare takes great delight in wordplay, and many comic puns rely on orthographic contrasts and resemblances of pronunciations of words in different languages and dialects. Love’s Labour’s Lost, a polyglot “feast of languages” (5.1.37), features a critique of Armado’s Spanish-inflected orthography by Holofernes (5.1.16-25).
In fact, cultural exchange was an unalienable part of the cultural life in Renaissance England. Translation, or translatio, signifying the figure of transport, was a common rhetorical trope that referred to the conveyance of ideas from one geo-cultural location to another, from one historical period to another, and from one artistic form to another. London saw a steady stream of merchants and foreign emissaries from Europe, the Barbary Coast, and the Mediterranean, and thousands of Dutch and Flemish Protestants fled to Kent in the late 1560s due to the Spanish persecution.
Literary translation sometimes modernizes the source text, which brings the text forcefully into the cultural register of a different era. As such, Shakespeare in translation acquired the capacity to appear as the contemporary (and ideal companion) of the German Romantics, a spokesperson for the proletarian heroes, required reading for the Communists, and even a trans-historical icon of modernity in East Asia. Even new titles given to Shakespeare’s plays are suggestive of the preoccupation of the society that produced them, such as the 1710 German adaptation of Hamlet title Der besträfte Brudermord (The Condemned Fratricide) and Sulayman Al-Bassam’s The Al-Hamlet Summit (English version in 2002; Arabic version in 2004). While Western directors, translators, and critics of The Merchant of Venice tend to focus on the ethics of conversion and religious tensions with Shylock at center stage, the play has a completely different face in East Asia with Portia as its central character and the women’s emancipation movement in the nascent capitalist societies as its main concern, as evidenced by its common Chinese title A Pound of Flesh, a 1885 Japanese adaptation of The Merchant of Venice titled The Season of Cherry Blossoms, the World of Money, and a 1927 Chinese silent film The Woman Lawyer.
What can Shakespeare in translation teach us? While post-colonial critics commonly privilege works that critique the role of Western hegemony in the historical record of globalization, the meanings of Shakespeare today are not always determined by post-colonial vocabulary or the discourses of globalization.
SC: You have co-edited Shakespeare in Hollywood, Asia and Cyberspace. In what ways does your book explore adaptations of Shakespeare on the big screen? How do modern influences incorporate themselves into the recreation of centuries-old plays?
AH: Shakespeare has been brought to screens big and small, and with the rise of Asian economic power and unparalleled global interest in Shakespeare, the present time is especially propitious for studying the complex relations between Shakespeare, Hollywood, Asia, and cyberspace.
Each Shakespearean play appeals to a generation or culture. The hesitating Hamlet dominated the European imagination after the fall of Napoleon, as Isaiah Berlin has argued, just as King Lear and Macbeth struck a chord in 20th century Japanese and Chinese cultures. Troilus and Cressida was a cult play for the anti-war generation of the American experience in Vietnam. Shakespeare’s other plays have been used to comment on politics in China. But Shakespeare is about more than political resonance. His plays strike chords often difficult to hear because our experience is limited. One may be surprised that comedies such as The Taming of the Shrew and A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream are a staple of student productions in Asia, since one generally thinks that comedy is more culturally bound than tragedy. It may be that it takes a different culture, perhaps a local city or island or language, to remind us of some aspect of Shakespeare that has a claim on our attention.
The past decades have witnessed diverse incarnations and bold sequences of screen and stage Shakespeares that gave rise to productive encounters between the ideas of Asia and Shakespeare. Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood (Macbeth, 1957) and Ran (Lear, 1985) are far from the earliest or the only Shakespeare films from Asia; around the time Asta Nielsen’s cross-dressed Hamlet was filmed (1921), gender-bender silent film adaptations of The Merchant of Venice and Two Gentlemen of Verona were being made in Shanghai. In 2006, Mainland China director Feng Xiaogang adapted Hamlet, Hollywood visual language, and the Kung Fu genre in his feature film The Banquet. Hollywood Shakespeare films such as Baz Luhrmann’s William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet and John Madden’s Shakespeare in Love have inspired creative re-interpretations of these films, as well as of Romeo and Juliet in Anthony (Yau) Chan’s Hong Kong film One Husband Too Many and Cheah Chee Kong’s Singaporean movie, Chicken Rice War.
In the other direction, Hollywood and the global economy in general have brought Asian cultures forcefully into the Western cultural register, as evidenced by the mediation and reception of Shakespeare and world cultures on screens big and small, including silent film, television, feature film, documentary, and such media as online games, anime, and YouTube. Two prominent examples are Kenneth Branagh’s As You Like It (2006), set in Japan, and the appropriation of eastern spirituality in Thich Nah Han’s scene in Michael Almereyda’s Hamlet (2000). In both directions of the intercultural traffic, Asian audio-visual idioms have been appropriated along with Shakespeare’s text on stage and on screen.
SC: You are the co-founder of the Global Shakespeares digital archive. How did the idea for the project begin? What are some of your goals for the project?
AH: The Global Shakespeares open-access digital performance video project started with the simple idea of making teaching and research materials accessible in educational and non-commercial contexts. It is a simple but ambitious idea. The project began with my personal collection of performance videos for my research. As my collection grew, colleagues began requesting the videos to expose their students to Shakespeare performances from around the world. Mailing the tapes back and forth became quickly unmanageable, and new technologies for the production and distribution of digital video were rapidly becoming more accessible to educators, so I decided to bring the collection online.
With Peter Donaldson, Ford Foundation Professor of Humanities and Professor of Literature at MIT, we co-founded MIT Global Shakespeares and fully launched it online in 2010. With just a click of your mouse, you can travel to Brazil to view Othello, watch Hamlet in Egypt, attend King Lear in England, or see India’s take on A Midsummer’s Night Dream. The archive has attracted many educators, students, as well as theater and Shakespeare enthusiasts who wish to discover worldwide performances of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets. Many of the videos we host come with English subtitles and vetted metadata.
Global Shakespeares is a free, open-access video and performance archive of 350 and counting Shakespeare and Shakespeare-influenced productions and clips from around the world. It’s sort of a YouTube for Shakespearians, and theater and film enthusiasts, but with much better stability and scholarly foundation.
Global Shakespeares has been recognized as a valuable research source for scholars. It has been reviewed in major journals and newspapers, including Shakespeare Quarterly, the British Shakespeare Association’s Shakespeare and Asian Theatre Journal. The archive has also been indexed by the Modern Language Association’s bibliography, World Shakespeare Bibliography, and other scholarly databases.
Each video on Global Shakespeares is posted with permission, is thoroughly researched and properly annotated, and has subtitles when needed.
One of the most interesting aspects of Global Shakespeares is that users can view the same play performed in different countries to see firsthand how different cultures interpret and perform pivotal scenes.
SC: You seem to be interested in the “digital humanities.” Why is it important to preserve Shakespeare’s legacy digitally? How are you and other scholars keeping his works alive?
AH: Shakespeare’s legacy is rich and diverse in its contents, and it takes more than print media and the codex book model to preserve that legacy. Digital formats can better accommodate this diversity. It is important to digitally preserve the legacy, and textual and performative variants (variations among different editions and different interpretations during performances). Open-access digital platforms allow for greater and easier access to one important piece of arts and humanities.
There are many institutions and teams that keep Shakespeare’s works alive digitally. Some focus on textual or editorial histories along with comprehensive, vetted scholarly information on Shakespeare’s life and works (such as the Internet Shakespeare Editions), while others focus on generating stage-friendly texts and concordance (such as Open Source Shakespeare). Still, others focus on the contexts of Shakespeare’s works in early modern and modern times (such as the freely available XML files and schema for The Winter’s Tale and The Comedy of Errors of the MLA New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare). Many theater companies have experimented with interactive contents and online videos—live or recorded—to engage existing, future, on-site, and off-site audiences before, during and after the productions.
Within the limited space here, I would like to talk about the role of digital video in the digital humanities and specifically in Shakespeare studies. Hundreds of thousands of Shakespeare-related videos including promotional clips for stage productions—buoyed by a tag cloud—“live” on the English- and Japanese-language portals of YouTube and other video-sharing and social networking sites around the world. Some of these may be transient, but digital video is a large part of Shakespeare’s presence in contemporary world cultures.
However, open-access full video recordings of theatrical productions are still uncommon.
MIT Global Shakespeares is an open-access digital archive of videos of stage adaptations and films from different parts of the world. The field of Shakespeare in performance stands to gain from archival stability and the repertoire of embodied cultural history. A performance video archive with vetted contents and open-access platform can become both the archive and the repertoire. The digital archive and tools are useful not because they are new, but because they are efficient and, in many cases, the only tools to transcend the journalistic mode of research and writing.
Distinct from analog media such as photography and film, digital video—non-linear, non-sequential medium—can support instant access to any sequence in a performance, as well as the means to re-order and annotate sequences, and to bring them into meaningful conjunction with other videos, texts and image collections.
While one may be limited to digitized texts in a project such as The Dickinson Electronic Archive (http://www.emilydickinson.org/), Shakespeare offers the richest material for negotiating the transition from textual paradigms or the expanded book model to a truly performance-based mode of understanding cultural production and reception. In part, this is because Shakespeare is so widely studied, taught and performed throughout the world. But it is also because it has now become possible to bring together a coherent collection of video recordings of complete productions of sufficient depth to create a densely interconnected video environment in which one can move freely from one performance or sequence to others based on the particulars of the performances themselves, rather than solely based on their relation to Shakespeare’s text, or to the needs of a text-driven understanding of their significance. A video-centered, and not a text-centered, Shakespeare archive has the potential to transform key scholarly and pedagogical practices in the humanities, and to give performance-based study the precision of reference and the depth of access to the basic documentary materials of the field long taken for granted in the domain of textual studies.
Of course, digital video can never replace a live performance, but it can, especially in a globally interconnected online environment, do many things that the performances it records cannot do. Digitized performances can form new relationships with the local and global, contemporary and even ancient histories of which they are a part.
SC: You gave a congressional presentation, “National Security and Other Global Challenges through Cultural Understanding: A Briefing on the Humanities in the 21st Century.” What is the significance of the humanities in a globalized world, and how does Shakespeare play a part in it?
AH: It is a unique responsibility to teach Shakespeare and globalization in downtown Washington, D.C., three blocks from the White House. My international and local students take pride in studying in the nation’s capital.
During my congressional testimony on Capitol Hill, I was making a case for public support for the humanities in the United States. Shakespeare has helped shape powerful thinkers around the world, including the founding fathers of the U.S.
When Shakespeare’s plays move through different cultures, they reveal unexamined assumptions about human nature and tell surprising stories about globalization. Take, for example, a slice from Hamlet’s inquisitive mind: “to be or not to be, that is the question.” The versatile verb “to be” is as ambiguous in English as it is in many other languages. It has been translated into Russian, German, and Arabic as to do, to die, and “to have” (but to have or not to have what!?). Translating this speech into Japanese will require substantial rewriting because this language does not have the verb “to be” without semantic contexts. Working with Japanese, a language more complex than English from a sociolinguistic point of view, a translator would have to wrestle with more than 20 first-and second-person pronouns to maintain the ambiguity.
Understanding other peoples’ stories means the difference between a window shopper and informed decision maker in international arenas. Here are two inspiring stories of Shakespeare in South Africa and China.
A smuggled copy of The Complete Works of Shakespeare inspired Nelson Mandela while he was in the Robben Island jail. The South African prisoners there signed their names next to passages that were important to them. The passage Mandela chose on December 16, 1977, was from Julius Caesar, just before the Roman statesman leaves for the senate on the Ides of March in act 2, scene 2:
Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard.
It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.
These lines taught Mandela how to dream and how to rise from the ashes. Through imaginary literature, we, like Jefferson, Lincoln, and Mandela, can rehearse multiple scenarios and histories without having to endure the costly consequences of going to war or taking one’s own life in a political prison. The humanities can show us the future of the history we are making.
As well, Wu Ningkun has a moving story to tell. The mainland Chinese intellectual returned from the University of Chicago to join Mao Zedong’s New China in 1951. A decade later, he was sent to a labor camp during the Chinese Cultural Revolution in the 1960s because of his alleged association with the capitalist West. Although he was under close surveillance, he still managed to smuggle a copy of Hamlet into the camp to read whenever “the prisoners had to spend the day cooped up in a cell when a blinding blizzard blew from Siberia.”. Of this experience, he later wrote in his memoir A Single Tear: A Family’s Persecution, Love, and Endurance in Communist China:
Hamlet was my favorite Shakespeare play. Read in a Chinese labor camp, however, the tragedy of the Danish prince took on unexpected dimensions. . . . The Ghost thundered with a terrible chorus of a million victims of proletarian dictatorship.
The real question I came to see was neither “to be, or not to be,” nor whether “in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” but how to be worthy of one’s suffering.
The nature of his tribulations highlights what Wu elides from the Hamlet quote: “or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them.” On the one hand, it could mean that he wishes to counter the unfortunate condition of Cultural Revolution by not taking on a Hamlet-like passivity. On the other hand, it could imply that Wu seeks justice on a more transcendent level and is not seeking revenge upon those who unjustly imprisoned him. Shakespeare helped Wu survive in the labor camp, and reading Wu’s story helps us understand a crucial moment in the making of post-Mao China as the nation emerges from the Cultural Revolution.
Storytelling makes us human. But the value of the humanities extends even further into every aspect of our life. Our language is literary and has been enriched by the humanistic traditions. Language defines our existence and the daily operation of our society. Great stories instruct and delight, comfort and inspire.
That is the significance of the humanities in a globalized world.
SC: You are busy with teaching, committees, and projects, yet you still find time to do your own research. What are you currently working on?
AH: They include diaspora, ethics, translation, and adaptation, which have led to a few writing projects and the publication of a new book. In Shakespeare and the Ethics of Appropriation (New York: Palgrave, 2014), which I co-edited with Professor Elizabeth Rivlin, we argue for the importance of recognizing the ethical burden of the act of appropriation.
As the study and performance of Shakespeare become ever more global and local, theater and cultural festivals are increasingly informed by their ethical aspirations. For instance, self-conscious about international politics and the guilty pleasure of festive cosmopolitanism, the 2012 London Globe-to-Globe’s website promised that the festival “will be a carnival of stories,” including inspirational ones of the companies “who work underground and in war zones.”
By giving expression to marginalized, oppressed, and disenfranchised cultural voices, Shakespeare becomes a vehicle of empowerment, an agent to foster the multicultural good.
Yet the global reach of this festival and others of its kind also invites pressing questions: How does Shakespeare make other cultures legible to Anglo-American audiences? What does it entail for the British media to judge touring productions of Shakespeare from around the world? What roles do non-Western identities, aesthetics, and idioms play in the rise of Shakespearean cinema and theater as global genres? To what extent do non-Western Shakespeare productions act as fetishized commodities in the global marketplace? Shakespearean celebrations on an international scale continue through the decade, tied to the landmark years of 2014 (the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth) and 2016 (the 400th anniversary of his death).
In an age when Shakespeare is increasingly globalized, diversified, and applied in service of a multitude of agendas, it is more urgent than ever to analyze the ethical ramifications, byproducts, and problems that inevitably attend such appropriations.
SC: The characters and themes of Shakespeare are still alive in course curriculum for young students. Why do you think his works resonate with students even today? Do you forecast a future where Shakespeare disappears, or do you believe he will remain immortal through his works?
AH: “Shakespeare” is very much alive today because he can show us how to tell and listen to stories. In this age of globalization, stories, like people, travel and move around; they connect us to other times and places. We can also learn a great deal about another culture through the stories they tell. We can always learn about ourselves by comparing how another culture read the very same story.
We are defined by our stories. At the same time, they liberate us from the prison house of a relatively short lifespan in the infinite universe. Great stories can also give us courage, insight, and vision. In one of my classes, I discuss with my students the impact of the joint project of the National Endowment for the Arts and the Department of Defense to tour the Alabama Shakespeare Festival’s production of Macbeth to 13 U.S. military bases in 2004. Indeed, what does it mean to read Shakespeare through peace and war?
Shakespeare will not remain “immortal” in the sense of remaining static. Storytelling is such a deeply ingrained part of human civilizations and what it means to be human that Shakespeare, along with many poets, will not disappear.
Shakespeare is dramatic. Shakespeare is philosophical. Shakespeare did not invent the human, but the works and rewritings that fall under the name “Shakespeare” speak to many situations in life.