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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: July ::
Re: Shakespeare's Popularity
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.1340  Thursday, 29 July 1999.

[1]     From:   Ed Taft <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 28 Jul 1999 12:05:29 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Shakespeare's Popularity

[2]     From:   Mike Jensen <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 28 Jul 1999 14:49:01 -0700
        Subj:   SHK 10.1335 Re: Shakespeare's Current Popularity


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ed Taft <
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Date:           Wednesday, 28 Jul 1999 12:05:29 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Shakespeare's Popularity

Susan Oldrieve asks for opinions about why Shakespeare is so popular
right now, as she is going to be interviewed on radio soon about this
phenomenon.  Susan, I was interviewed a couple of months ago about this
same issue.  For what it is worth, here's what I said in brief:

Some of Shakespeare's enduring concerns are the nature of politics and
the ways in which the sexes relate to each other. These are also two of
our culture's major concerns.  Branagh's H5 brought into focus the
question of what constitutes a good political leader, and his Much Ado
featured a battle of the sexes much like that of Tracey and Hepburn,
whose joint movies are themselves now being re-evaluated.  So, from one
point of view, the concerns of the late 1990s match those of the late
1590s and help explain Shakespeare's current appeal.

But there may be an element of nostalgia that is of concern (at least to
me). Both Shakespeare and Jane Austen may, in the popular mind,
represent "safe" answers to hard questions. After all, the public's
interpretation of Shakespeare and Austen may not be consonant with
scholars' views. From this perspective, H5 shows us the charismatic
leader that we one had (Kennedy?) but no longer have, and Beatrice is
full of spunk but ultimately "tames her wild heart" and marries
Benedick.

At the very bottom of this phenomenon may be the fact that in a secular
and multicultural age such as ours, for many the Bible is no longer an
arbiter of "truth." If so, Shakespeare may be taking its place as "the
word" that can finally be referred to give us comfort and "authority" in
these dark and confusing times.

I have no ideas if the above paragraph is true, but I'll end by pointing
out that there is no revival going on of Spenser, Milton, or Chaucer.
Shakespeare alone seems to have escaped the confines of his time,
perhaps because he seems "modern" and, in the public mind, also a kind
of "wise" man whose wisdom can still be accessed.

--Ed Taft

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mike Jensen <
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Date:           Wednesday, 28 Jul 1999 14:49:01 -0700
Subject: Re: Shakespeare's Current Popularity
Comment:        SHK 10.1335 Re: Shakespeare's Current Popularity

Judy Craig wrote:

>Maybe Gary Taylor's view is more of a reflection on him and his tastes
>than on other people's views of Shakespeare or even Shakespeare's
>reputation in our time.

I have to wonder which view?  His essay contained several.

Of course Taylor's views tell us a lot about Taylor.  That is
inevitable.  He is also a notorious Shakespearean nay sayer.  But he
can't be dismissed for either of these reasons.  His work is too good,
his reputation too considerable.  When he says that Shakespeare's
reputation peaked during the Victorian period, it probably did, at least
in the English speaking parts of the world.  It is difficult to argue
with that statement.  His book on the subject makes interesting if not
lively reading.  Other statements are more assailable.

I don't remember Taylor discussing the burgeoning interest in the east,
particularly Japan and China.  Did he?  I think due consideration should
be given to the proliferation of films and festivals.  Increasingly
children's early encounters with Shakespeare are the right sort, the
entertaining sort.  Kids are surprisingly knowledgeable about at least
the plots of the plays they have seen.  I think films and festivals are
creating new fans, or as Taylor may prefer, an expanded market.  When I
go to a bookstore for a book signing, and if someone asks what I am
writing now, I always have a number of people approach me afterwards who
want to talk Shakespeare.  I believe Shakespeare appreciation is on the
rise, but I doubt it will swell to the heights of the Victorian past.
It is ever in flux.  To some extent this is good.  I was delighted at
SAA when I learned how many people were working on the plays of
Shakespeare's contemporaries.  I am under-read in them myself.

This is a very complex matter and I doubt if anyone has command of all
the factors.  Taylor's book, Reinventing Shakespeare, is a good and
sobering place to begin.  He brings out a lot of evidence to support his
thesis.  It's just that for many, Taylor's attitude gets in the way.

Best,
Mike Jensen
 

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