Friday, 20 May 2016

Would Shakespeare want us to leave Europe?

Great Britons

Shakespeare is one of the greatest Britons ever to have lived. He seems to be in the Top 20 of most lists I can find and in the huge survey conducted by the BBC in 2002 he sat comfortably at Number Five (after Winston Churchill, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Diana Princess of Wales and Charles Darwin.) Other writers who (in my opinion) make the list without question are Geoffrey Chaucer and Charles Dickens – I think of Those Three as the writers who forever transformed Poetry (Chaucer), Drama (Shakespeare) and Prose (Dickens.) Nudging them (in alphabetical order) I would include the following writers for a variety of reasons: Jane Austen, William Blake, the Brontës, Agatha Christie, Caryl Churchill, CS Lewis, JK Rowling, GB Shaw, JRR Tolkien, Oscar Wilde and William Wordsworth and there are, of course, many more vying for attention. We have a truly great national tradition of writing that changed the reading and literary habits of the world, as did, I think, the ones I’ve mentioned.
Great Britons

Would Shakespeare, as a Great Briton, vote Remain or Brexit on June 23rd 2016?

I saw Cymbeline at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre recently and (one of) the villain(s) in that strange Romance is the thuggish Cloten who is definitely a Brexiter as he stands up to the Roman Empire by refusing to pay them tribute:
                            Britain is
A world by itself; and we will nothing pay
For wearing our own noses.
So is Cloten speaking for Shakespeare when he wants Britain to stand alone without paying out any money to any foreign power for trade rights and protection?
Current RSC Cloten Marcus Griffiths singing to Bethan Cullinane's Imogen, Anton Yelchin in the 2014 film of Cymbeline and Thomas Gorrebeeck's portrayal as the nationalist Cloten

Confirmation bias

As in the whole of Shakespeare’s work you can usually find a contradictory opinion because Shakespeare seems to see both sides of every human dilemma. The history play King John ends with lines that might well echo Cloten’s sentiments:
This England never did, nor never shall,
Lie at the proud foot of a conqueror….
….Nought shall make us rue,
If England to itself do rest but true.
The King of France and two King John Philip the Bastards: Pippa Nixon and Rikki Lawton
But these words are spoken by a cynical (though appealing and persuasive) character, Philip the Bastard. Conversely,  in the final scene of the more popular and potentially patriotic history play, Henry V, Shakespeare writes about England and France ceasing their hatred and hopes
                     ....this dear conjunction (will)    
Plant neighbourhood and Christian-like accord
In their sweet bosoms, that never war advance
His bleeding sword 'twixt England and fair France.
So does Shakespeare wants us to stand alone (“England to itself”) or work together in a group (with “neighbourhood and Christian-like accord”)? Perhaps we hear what we want to hear when we listen to Shakespeare, just as we tend to read newspapers or go to websites that already confirm what our opinions are.
Henry V with Donato Giancola's painting of Agincourt, Olivier and Branagh - a Shakespeare king as patriotic hero, senseless warmonger or bringer of peace to Europe - potentially all three

European settings

As well as locations throughout England, Shakespeare presented many European locations on the Jacobethan stage, even if there is no evidence that Shakespeare ever travelled abroad. In the plays we travel to Actium, Agincourt, Alexandria, Antioch, Athens, Bohemia, Cyprus, Elsinore, Ephesus, Florence, Harfleur, Illyria, Inverness, Mantua, Marseilles, Messina, Milan, Mytilene, Navarre, Orleans, Padua, Pentapolis, Philippi, Rome, Roussillon, Sicily, Tharsus, Troy, Tyre, Venice, Verona, Vienna. (Those places cover Europe and north Africa pretty widely: modern-day Austria, Denmark, Egypt, France, Greece, Italy, Lebanon, Macedonia, Turkey, Scotland, Spain, Wales, Yugoslavia.) Shakespeare’s imaginative landscape was definitely outward-looking.
from Shakespeare Fangirl's Pinterest page