Shakespeare and Iconicity

Seminar description
Abstracts of papers

Convenor: Ton Hoenselaars


This seminar addressed the various ways in which Shakespeare, his theatre, his plays, the characters, and the lines spoken by these characters have gained a special new status beyond the immediate biographical and textual contexts from which they derive.

Instances of cultural and political appropriation include the representation of Shakespeare as a character (Shakespeare in Love, Shakespearean biography, portraits on banknotes and credit cards, the souvenir industry), the representation of characters as icons (Hamlet and the nineteenth century: man in sable perusing skull, the drowning of Ophelia), traditions of citation (chapter headings, political propaganda, and advertisements), and the performance of Shakespeare's plays within other plays and other literary genres (as in the novels of Charles Dickens, or in Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead).

Shakespeare and Iconicity addresses both textual and pictorial efforts to grant "Shakespeare" a symbolic status within our cultures.


Dana Chetrinescu (University of Timisoara, Romania): "Shakespeare, the Film Tycoon - Pleasure or Necessity?"
abstract / paper

Paul Franssen (University of Utrecht, The Netherlands): "The Bard and the Time Machine"
abstract / paper

Eugenia Gavriliu ("Dunarea de Jos" University, Galati, Romania): "Shakespeare As A Romantic Icon In Early Modern Romanian Culture"
abstract / paper

Krystyna Kujawinska Courtney (University of Lodz, Poland): "From Jan Kott to Commerce: Shakespeare in Post-Communist Poland"
abstract / paper

Theodora Mavropoulou: "Shakespeare as high culture in Greece and the specificity of the Greek social class system"
abstract / paper

Sokolyansky, Mark. (University of Odessa, Ukraine): "Shakespearean Themes and Motifs in Anton Chekhov's Works"
abstract / paper


Dana Chetrinescu (University of Timisoara, Romania)
Shakespeare, the Film Tycoon &endash; Pleasure or Necessity?

The story of Shakespeare on big screen is a tale of visual investigation, of the collective, mass consumption of a type of imagery that has been offered for centuries through the written text. The modern cultural and intellectual life emphasizes on experience and knowledge through imagery, on the conversion for the sake of simplification of the printed sign into image. The regimes of gaze in the 20th century have changed the traditional approach towards art, by creating the illusion of proximity and complicity with the cultural products consumed.
The paper means to discuss Shakespearean adaptations for the cinema from the point of view of how they are answering new expectations of cultural consumption. Shakespeare commodified satisfies the tastes, aesthetic and intellectual standards of the public of the post-Gutenberg Galaxy. Ever since the 1929 Hollywood production of "The Taming of the Shrew", Shakespeare has become a pop icon. Showbiz has transformed the literary canon according to the need for entertainment and information of the contemporaries. The paper is looking at cinema adaptations as products meant to facilitate comprehension, explain symbolism, to digest, in a way, Shakespeare's work or to offer topics addressing current issues that the public can accept as their own. The fact that contemporary film criticism and the press claim that Shakespeare created as if for the "movieland" and that the Bard had "a keen nose for box-office trends" may seem an anachronistic remark, but may also mean that Shakespeare is a "survivor" whose topics can be forever readdressed. The paper intends to discuss the expectations and the background of the Elizabethan and the contemporary public comparatively and see what has happened in the four hundred years in between. Without being a sociological research or a market survey, it will look at older or newer meanings revealed by the outbreak of on-screen Shakespeare, aspects that can be enjoyed, sided with, assumed, internalized by the 20th or 21st ever-consuming and recycling audience.

Paul Franssen (University of Utrecht, The Netherlands)
The Bard and the Time Machine

My paper is part of a larger project on the deployment of Shakespeare as a fictional character to promote a variety of discourses. For this conference, I propose to investigate the subgenre within fiction about Shakespeare that uses time travel to bring the national icon into direct contact with twentieth-century values and (literary) judgments, not in the last place about his own supposed paramount importance as the greatest writer ever. Many of such fantasies turn on time travel devices, loosely based on The Time Machine by H. G. Wells. My working hypothesis is that this kind of fiction is more likely to deflate the image of Shakespeare, under the influence of the technocratic framework suggested by this method of time travel, whereas alternative fictional strategies by which Shakespeare can be confronted with his modern readers (e.g., Shakespeare as a Ghost, time travel through magic) tend to build up the Shakespearean myth, or at least leave it intact.
In my paper I will deal with short stories by Isaac Asimov, Bill Pronzini and Barry Malzberg, E. Bertrand Loring, and Anthony Burgess, as well as Hugh Kingsmill's novel The Return of William Shakespeare. I will contrast these Wellsian time-travel fantasies with appearances of Shakespeare's ghost (on which see Michael Dobson, The Making of the National Poet, passim) and the magical time-travel device of Erica Jong's Serenissima.
One aspect of the rift between technological and alternative modes of time-travel is the geographical dimension: the USA being the world leader in technological developments, in many such fantasies the Bard is confronted with Americans and/or an American democratic culture. In the alternative traditions, by contrast, and not just in the older examples, a European setting (Britain, Italy) seems to guarantee a more dignified reception for Shakespeare--even if, as in the case of Erica Jong, the author as well as the protagonist are Americans.

Eugenia Gavriliu ("Dunarea de Jos" University, Galati, Romania)
Shakespeare As A Romantic Icon In Early Modern Romanian Culture

This reception study examines Shakespeare's early career in the three Romanian historical provinces of Transylvania, Wallachia and Moldavia, a process that could be identified in the latter half of the 18th century to reach a climax during the 1830s and 40s when Romanian culture was embarking upon its Romantic stage. This was marked by the selective assimilation of such works of the European Romanticism that best suited the historical commandments within. Under these conditions the works of the English Pre-Romantics Young, Gray and Macpherson and of the Romantics Byron and Scott met their Romanian success due to their capacity of enhancing pre-existing tendencies. Concurrently, as the era continued to be sensible to the need of literary models, exemplary works belonging to the most various literary epochs and doctrines would become part of the Romanian literary background. Shakespeare was such a literary model 'par excellence' while his works would continue as the object of uncritical devotion for many a literary enthusiast till late by the turn of the 19th century.
The moment of Shakespeare's reception in Romania has proved a seminal direction of enquiry and this paper is gratefully indebted to remarkable pioneering comparative scholarship which, beneath the diversity of approaches, reveals the researchers' consensus that the investigation of the specific ways in which Romanian culture has responded to Shakespeare's work will give the extent to which our culture has integrated itself within the European cultural mainstream. Shakespeare's early success in the Romanian Countries was surely not different from that in Europe where he became known at the heights of the Enlightenment and reached the climax of his popularity with the Romantics' claim for an ancestry able to sustain their allegiance to a new poetics. However, what distinguishes the Romanian appropriation of Shakespeare is the perception of the process as an intellectual challenge, a provocative encounter meant to test the nation's intellectual maturity.
The paper is structured upon what can be termed the 'stages' in Shakespeare's Romanian reception, from individual cases of non-mediated contacts identifiable among the intellectual elite through overt, public manifestations of iconicity in the periodical press and the first published translations, though mediated by French and German intermediaries.
The case that is being made is that all along the period Shakespeare's name was invoked as supreme argument and Shakespearean characters were selected as prototypes of human condition during the literary doctrinal debates that marked the gradual crystallizing of the Romantic concepts in an era growing even more intellectually nature and sensible to the forces that were operating towards Romanticism.

Krystyna Kujawinska Courtney (University of Lodz, Poland)
From Jan Kott to Commerce: Shakespeare in Post-Communist Poland

The paper will pursue the artistic and cultural implications of the Polish popular interpretation of Shakespeare in Post-Communist Poland. It is my assertion that under the Communist regime he held the position of a political custodian of patriotic and democratic values and that nowadays, after a decade of independence, Shakespeare has regained his position of cultural authority and celebrity under the capitalist Market regime, newly emerged in Poland. He has come back as a platform for a range of cultural goods and enterprises that carry his name as their trademark (e.g. TV commercials, campaigns for new products, commercialized adaptation of his plays). Though Western film versions of his works and other avantgarde productions have contributed to the Polish commercial exploitation of Shakespeare, his Polish circulation as a mass-cultural icon collocated with indigenous new artistic and aesthetic appropriations of his works in theatres, and academia. The paper will conclude with observations on the issues of social continuity and sustained cultural authority of art in the context of new ways of "contemporizing Shakespeare" in Poland. I would like to use slides, video and tapes during my presentation.

TheodoraMavropoulou (Aristotle University, Thessaloniki)
Shakespeare as high culture in Greece and the specificity of the Greek social class system

The reception of Shakespeare's plays on the Greek stage, from the very first moments of their encounter with the Greek audience, can be analyzed along the lines of the country's particular socio-political and cultural agenda. Due both to the country's geography and to its tradition, the Greek nation was nurtured in an environment comprising two oppositional traits. On the one hand there was the influence from the East and the consequent nostalgia for the Byzantine era while, on the other, there was the 'romantic Hellenism' advocating the western European aspect of Greece and the superiority of ancient times.
The conjuncture of those two, antithetical aspects in the identity of the Greek nation has informed the reception of the Shakespearean plays in so far as it prevented the formulation of the basic conditions necessary for the consolidation of a genuine educated middle class ideology in the country. The lack of a rudimentary context for the development of a strong urban voice constitutes one of the main reasons for the development of a culturally specific coalition between the Greek lower classes and the then Royal circles. Along the lines of this peculiar coalition the royalty and the aristocrats sought to appropriate the classics in general and Shakespeare in particular in order to perpetuate their own values and ideas. Shakespeare was represented as the bearer of an allegedly permanent cultural value which constituted 'high culture' versus an axiomatically 'debased' mass culture. In this way, however, the potentiality of the English poet was almost nullified since he was considered to be an important means through which the particular set of social relations could be thought as a natural hierarchy.

Mark Sokolyansky (University of Odessa, Ukraine)
Shakespearean Themes and Motifs in Anton Chekhov's Works

The traces of Shakespearean impact on Anton Chekhov's dramaturgy was repeatedly and sometimes rather uncommonly underlined by various writers (from Lev Tolstoy to Arthur Miller) and well-known stage directors (from Konstantin Stanislavsky and Vsevolod Meyerhold to Jean-Lois Barrault). These traces were noticed and commented by some explorers of Chekhov's works, but the peculiar character of the Russian writer's approach to and interpretation of some Shakespearean themes, motifs, and images has not yet been investigated thoroughly.

In spite of the great historical and geographical distance between the Elisabethan England and Russia of fin de siècle, numerous Shakespearean allusions and wandering quotations can be read in Chekhov's short stories and tales, as well as in several dramatic works (The Swan-Song, The Wood-goblin, Platonov, Ivanov, The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters, The Cherry Orchard). His conviction that the contemporary Russian stage "had to be cured by Shakespeare", lead him to a very specific way of carrying on the theme of the so-called Russian hamletism. The references to Hamlet in the tragi-comic world of Chekhov's writings are rather different. The role of irony in the playwright's interpretation of Hamletian theme in The Seagull and other plays is of special importance and interest.
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Shakespeare in European Culture
Basel, November 2001
conference proceedings

Shakespeare in Europe
University of Basel, Switzerland
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last changes: November 2001