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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: February ::
Shakespeare, the true-blue, red-blooded,
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0312  Wednesday, 4 February 2004

From:           Al Magary <
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Date:           Tuesday, 3 Feb 2004 14:59:45 -0800
Subject:        Shakespeare, the true-blue, red-blooded, white American patriot

"Pronounce the acronym 'NEA,'" writes conservative art critic and editor
Roger Kimball
(http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/kimball200401291138.asp), "and
most people think Robert Mapplethorpe, photographs of crucifixes
floating in urine, and performance artists prancing about naked, smeared
with chocolate, and skirling about the evils of patriarchy."

So "Farewell Mapplethorpe," the column's headline says, and "Hello
Shakespeare:  The NEA the W Way."

Kimball writes that the new chair of the National Endowment for the
Arts, Dana Gioia, "has transformed that moribund institution into a
vibrant force for the preservation and transmission of artistic culture.
He has cut out the cutting edge and put back the art. Instead of
supporting repellent 'transgressive' freaks, he has instituted an
important new program to bring Shakespeare to communities across
America. And by Shakespeare I mean Shakespeare, not some PoMo
[post-modern] rendition that portrays Hamlet in drag or sets A Midsummer
Night's Dream in a concentration camp. (Check the website
www.shakespeareinamericancommunities.org for more information.)"

This is irresistible.  I click on the link.  The opening image of
"Shakespeare in America" is the US flag overprinted with the words "A
Great Nation Deserves Great Art."  Plainly, Kimball is happy to see
officially approved art in the service of the Bush administration; no
wonder Rush Limbaugh called attention to the Kimball piece
(http://www.rushlimbaugh.com/home/daily/site_012904/content/the_
big_theory_3.guest.html).

Under the flag, in small type, is an invitation to click on to
Shakespeare.  I do, and find Droeshout's Shakespeare in front of an
animated GIF of waving red and white stripes and twinkling white stars
on blue.

I suppose the Bard has not exactly been bound and gagged, but he has
been kidnapped and thrust in front of somebody else's microphone.  Let
us look backstage.

The blurb says the project is "the largest tour of Shakespeare in
American history. Shakespeare in American Communities will bring
professional Shakespeare productions and related educational activities
to 100 small and mid-sized communities in all 50 states."  The next page
says, "With a $1 million appropriation from the Department of Defense,
the Arts Endowment also will bring the tour to families on military bases."

The seven theater companies and the five plays they will perform:
--The Acting Company (New York, NY) touring Richard III
--Alabama Shakespeare Festival (Montgomery, AL) touring Macbeth
--Aquila Theatre Company, Inc. (New York, NY) touring Othello
--Arkansas Repertory Theatre (Little Rock, AR) touring Romeo and Juliet
--Artists Repertory Theatre (Portland, OR) touring A Midsummer Night's
Dream with actors from the Central Dramatic Company of Vietnam
--Chicago Shakespeare Theater (Chicago, IL) touring Romeo and Juliet
--Guthrie Theater (Minneapolis, MN) touring Othello

Well, is this so bad, then?  For the audiences at Richard III in
Baraboo, WI, or Othello in Statesboro, GA, probably good.  Other than
the egregious wrapping of an English dramatist in an American flag, I
guess what is offensive is the aesthetic--or maybe EZ
philistine--convenience of Shakespeare: not as man for all seasons but
the A-OK artist, Super Economy Size, packaged in patriotism.  Find a
urine-soaked crucifix outrageous?   Richard III and Macbeth will give
you a better idea of outrageous.  Find Karen Finley's government-funded
chocolate capers a nightmare?  Try Midsummer Night's Dream.

The website has the texts for all five plays, and, no, they do not seem
to be bowdlerized (Othello, at least), though these are not the stage
scripts.  The classroom guide
(http://www.shakespeareinamericancommunities.org/downloads/SIAC-TeachersGuide.pdf)
is a reasonable introduction, with the daring inclusion of a photo of
Paul Robeson as Othello--a sop to rad-libs in the classroom, I suppose.
  Two suggested assignments have students rewriting a monologue with
modern diction and transforming a sonnet into a prose love letter.

Irrationally, the website has a 4,200-word, water-muddying essay
entitled "Was Shakespeare Shakespeare?"--"indebted," it says, to John
Michell's Who Wrote Shakespeare? and Ron Allen's Who Were Shake-speare?
(http://www.shakespeareinamericancommunities.org/about/was.html)

Without giving the Stratfordian case, this summarizes the cases for
Bacon, Oxford, Derby, Rutland, and Marlowe--and for good measure,
suggests the case for Shakespeare as theater manager, dramaturge,
writing assistant, and compiler of 38 plays written by several anonymous
playwrights.  Even more subversively, the bibliography
(http://www.shakespeareinamericancommunities.org/about/bibliogra
phy.html) under "biographies and studies" lists 49 works of which 19 are
anti-Stratfordian works by Delia Bacon, Charlton Ogburn, and others, and
hardly any literary studies.  Perhaps someone wants to make the case
that Shakespeare was actually American...

Two cheers,
Al Magary

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