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Shakespeare in the World of Communism and Socialism

Shakespeare in the World of Communism and Socialism

Irena R. Makaryk
Joseph G. Price
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 418
  • Book Info
    Shakespeare in the World of Communism and Socialism
    Book Description:

    The general theme that emerges from this study is the deeply ambivalent nature of communist Shakespeare who, like Feste's 'chev'ril glove,' often simultaneously served and subverted the official ideology.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-1658-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. A Note on Slavic Transliteration
    (pp. xv-2)
  6. Introduction: When Worlds Collide: Shakespeare and Communisms
    (pp. 3-10)

    Like a venerated icon, William Shakespeare stared down from his mammoth portrait at the gathering of the first All-Union Congress of Soviet Writers in 1934 when one of Stalin’s favourite writers, Maxim Gorkii, urged younger colleagues to imitate Shakespeare, ‘the world’s greatest playwright.’¹ At the same time as the Congress embraced the English writer, socialist realism was pronounced the only aesthetic permissible in the USSR. The conjunction of these two events with their contradictory impulses – one towards celebration and imitation, the other, control – suggests the complex, uneasy, and unpredictable alliance of Shakespeare with communist ideology.

    In the decades to come,...


    • [PART ONE Introduction]
      (pp. 11-14)

      The boundaries of this chapter are roughly shaped by two important dates: 1917 and 1934. The first, the year of two revolutions (March and October), seemed to usher in the exciting possibility of political as well as cultural enfranchisement. The second, 1934, marks the official sanctification of socialist realism as the only possible way of expression in art, theatre, and literature in the USSR.

      Such a laconic narrative presents only a partially accurate account of this, the most dynamic and vital, period of the Soviet theatre. Although the groundwork for experimentation and politicization in the theatre was created before 1917,...

    • Performance and Ideology: Shakespeare in 1920s Ukraine
      (pp. 15-37)

      On the eve of the celebration of the first decade of the October Revolution, the critic Iakiv Mamontov looked forward with optimism to the future historian of the early Soviet Ukrainian theatre and imagined his ‘joyful excitement at bringing to life the images’ of those who ‘truly defeated our theatrical twilight and created a blazing dawn’ (Mamontov 1927: 2). Mamontov’s carefully scripted enthusiasm (by 1927 public celebrations were controlled by the Communist Party) coincides with one of the master narratives about the USSR still generally believed today: the notion that the October Revolution was responsible for enfranchising the theatre, and,...

    • Shakespeare and the Working Man: Communist Applications during Nationalist Periods in Latvia
      (pp. 38-55)

      The 1905 Bolshevik uprising, so brutally suppressed in St Petersburg by Tsar Nicholas II, spread like wildfire across the Baltic States. Fuelled by the desire to overthrow Russian hegemony in the region, native workers staged strikes and massive demonstrations in protest against tsarist rule. Lenin himself praised Latvian Communists, in particular, for ‘having taken the revolution to its highest level’: the defiant declaration – albeit short-lived – of ‘independence’ from imperial Russia (Ģērmanis 1959: 225).

      Marx and Engels had urged their followers to ‘look back to Shakespeare.’ Still, when they seized control of their nation, Latvian Communists questioned whether Shakespeare was an...

    • Shakespeare as a Founding Father of Socialist Realism: The Soviet Affair with Shakespeare
      (pp. 56-83)

      ‘Comrades, your congress is meeting at a time when under the leadership of the Communist Party, under the guiding genius of our great leader and teacher Comrade Stalin, the Socialist system has gained final and complete victory in our country [loud applause]’ (Pervyi Sezd 1934: 2). With these words, Andrei Zhdanov, the secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, opened the First Congress of Soviet Writers in 1934, the congress that ‘finally and completely’ proclaimed socialist realism as the dominant style in Soviet culture. ‘Truth and historical concreteness of artistic portrayal must be combined with the task of...

    • A Five-Year Plan for The Taming of the Shrew
      (pp. 84-103)

      Why do certain plays survive in repertories? Why do they retain their favour against all odds, while others, whatever their worth, drop out of sight? Why, despite literary or theatrical shortcomings, do some plays achieve classic status and perennial revival? What fashions or exigencies bring them out of obscurity and into sudden popularity? A largely overlooked factor is the actor’s desire to assume a role; but without a reciprocal response from the audience or the management, such a desire has to go unfulfilled. When the play in question is a foreign one, one also has to take into account issues...

    • The Forest of Arden in Stalin’s Russia: Shakespeare’s Comedies in the Soviet Theatre of the Thirties
      (pp. 104-114)

      In October 1936,Much Ado About Nothingpremiered at the Vakhtangov Theatre in Moscow. The public expected a theatrical feast and these expectations were fully realized. The colourful curtain rose to reveal a cloudless world, full of poetry, music, bright light, dazzling colours, brisk and buoyant movement. Beautiful women and handsome youths in vivid costumes were falling in love, singing, and tirelessly frolicking amidst elegant, almost weightless arches. The scene of the masquerade epitomized the tone:

      Variegated lanterns with intricate figures painted on gleaming walls, light-coloured silks and velvets, amusing and artless masks – this whole theatrical assortment in the style...


    • [PART TWO Introduction]
      (pp. 115-118)

      The purges of the 1930s encompassed the torture and execution of Vsevolod Meierkhold and Les Kurbas. Alexander Tairov went mad. Others shot themselves. With the Stalinist terror on the one hand and the insistence on socialist realism on the other, exciting experimental work such as that carried out in the 1920s was quickly replaced by timorous and, for the most part, banal Shakespearean productions. These frequently turned back to nineteenth-century models for inspiration, since Stalin preferred his theatre grandiose: opulent sets and costumes, a ‘realistic’-heroic style of acting, and ballet-divertissements. At the centre was a hero who reminded Stalin of...

    • Wartime Hamlet
      (pp. 119-135)

      The Moscow Art Theatre was on tour in Minsk, Belorussia, when the bombs first began to fall in the early summer of 1941. German troops, numbering nearly 3.2 million out of a total German field force of 3.8 million (Bullock 1991: 718), had begun their massive invasion of the western flank of the Soviet Union. ‘The Great Patriotic War,’ the ‘Great Fatherland War,’ or the ‘War of National Liberation’ – as the Second World War was variously styled by the Soviets – had begun. On this front in particular the war was to prove ‘the longest, most intensive and brutal conflict between...

    • ‘Thus conscience doth make cowards of us all’: New Documentation on the Okhlopkov Hamlet
      (pp. 136-156)

      TheHamletdirected by Nikolai Okhlopkov¹ that opened in Moscow on 16 December 1954 occupies a prominent place in Soviet theatre history. It was the first really important Russian staging of a Shakespearean play since the outbreak of the Second World War and the most original interpretation ofHamletsince Nikolai Akimov’s grotesque revision of 1932 at the Vakhtangov Theatre. Although it provoked controversy among the critics, Okhlopkov’sHamletwon such favour with the authorities and the public that it was promoted as a flagship production, featured in publicity on the glories of Soviet art, and cited as a must-see...

    • Shakespeare and the Berlin Wall
      (pp. 157-176)

      The Berlin Wall did not separate ethnic or cultural opposites like the ones kept apart in other divided cities of this world, one or two of which still remain. On the contrary, it disrupted what in an arduous historical process had become a unified nation, whose megalomaniac excesses had been shattered as a result of the Second World War. The Wall came to symbolize the post-war and cold-war East-West confrontation. It also cut through the nation’s capital, which had been the privileged hub of the nation’s cultural life.

      In 1989 the Wall disappeared. Since then it has been possible to...

    • In Search of a Socialist Shakespeare: Hamlet on East German Stages
      (pp. 177-204)

      The history of Shakespeare performance on the East German stage may be described as a continual process of redefining the dialectical tension between the past significance and present meaning of Shakespearean drama. This redefinition took place on three levels: First, as a re-appropriation of classic German drama, including Shakespeare, and as a forerunner of a socialist future. Shakespeare’s text and Shakespeare, the historical person, were employed to hold a mirror up to the social injustices and contradictions at the base of bourgeois society in early modern England as well as the kind of reasoning on which underlying it was based....

    • Shakespeare the Politicizer: Two Notable Stagings in East Germany
      (pp. 205-210)

      The East German director Piet Drescher (born 1940) worked at the Berliner Ensemble from 1967 to 1971, then in Karl-Marx-Stadt (now Chemnitz) from 1971, where his stagings includedThe Good Person of Setzuan,Antigone,Red Roses for Me, andThe House of Bernada Alba. Drescher was not, in his early period, noted for politically accentuated productions; rather, his work was marked by clarity, imagination, and realistic precision in the orthodox Brechtian manner.

      It was only when he felt ready to direct Shakespeare that a latent wish for more specific political statements became apparent. He first worked onMacbeth(1978), for...


    • [PART THREE Introduction]
      (pp. 211-214)

      At the First Soviet Writers’ Congress in 1934, the Georgian writer Mitsishvili voiced his fears that, as a result of the entrenchment of socialist realism, ‘minor’ literatures would become only a pale copy of Russian literature – a fear that would, in many cases, prove prophetic not only for literature but also for the theatre. Indeed, translating Shakespeare into twenty-eight languages of the USSR was, for Maxim Gorkii, one way of unifying as well as homogenizing the culture of the vast, varied, and often unsophisticated Soviet readership. This audience was extended after the erection of the Berlin Wall and with the...

    • Translations of Politics / Politics of Translation: Czech Experience
      (pp. 215-227)

      ‘Bless thee, Bottom, bless thee! Thou art translated,’ says Quince in AMidsummer Night’s Dream. Bottom’s translation is not a linguistic act; thetranslatiohe experiences is of a more profound nature: it means change, metamorphosis, or transformation.¹

      But long before Bottom is translated, it is Helena in the same play who says to Hermia:

      Were the world mine, Demetrius being bated,

      The rest I’d give to be to you translated. (2.2.190–1)

      Helena is translated in the sense that she becomes the object of Lysander’s and Demetrius’s desire. Lysander and Demetrius are themselves translated by Oberon’s magic juice; and...

    • Krystyna Skuszanka’s Shakespeare of Political Allusions and Metaphors in Communist Poland
      (pp. 228-245)

      Under the Communist regime in Poland (1945–89), every ten years or so theatre directors presented Shakespearean works. Many of them made an abundant use of Jan Kott’s famous bookShakespeare Our Contemporary(1965),¹ but few directors or critics acknowledged the source behind Kott’s thinking: Krystyna Skuszanka, one of the first female directors in Communist Poland.

      Though she staged only five of Shakespeare’s plays –Measure for Measure(1953, 1956, 1970),The Tempest(1959, 1969, 1989),Twelfth Night(1961, 1972),As You Like It(1966), andThe Winter’s Tale(1974, 1979) – she was fascinated by Shakespeare to such an extent that...

    • War, Lechery, and Goulash Communism: Troilus and Cressida in Socialist Hungary
      (pp. 246-269)

      ‘The most exciting play of Shakespeare’soeuvre is Troilus and Cressida,’ claimed Antal Németh, Hungarian theatre director and scholar, in 1964. In a review article about a handful of Western European theatre productions he had recently seen, including aTroilus and Cressidaguest-performance by the Bochum Schauspielhaus at the Théâtre des Nations in Paris, Németh mulled over Shakespeare’s ‘most exciting play’:

      Belonging to an indefinable genre, this bitter play exposes the Shakespearean world in a state of hopeless ruin and absolute decay in which all former values turn into their opposite: Juliet’s death-embracing fidelity turns into Cressida’s harlotry, heroism into...

    • The Chinese Vision of Shakespeare (from 1950 to 1990): Marxism and Socialism
      (pp. 270-282)

      Ever since he was introduced into China at the beginning of the twentieth century, Shakespeare has exerted a tremendous influence upon Chinese theatre and culture. The Shakespeare industry has flourished rapidly since the New Culture Movement in 1919, and Shakespeare’s works have been widely read, interpreted, and performed. Interrupted by years of foreign wars and internal rebellions, the enthusiasm of the Chinese for the playwright has remained high, particularly after the Cultural Revolution of 1966–76. Westerners may find it difficult to image how Shakespeare is admired, even worshiped by the Chinese people. His works are regarded more highly than...

    • From Maoism to (Post) Modernism: Hamlet in Communist China
      (pp. 283-302)

      Most Chinese Shakespearean scholarship before the 1980s can only be described as pseudo-criticism, thanks to its excessive dose of Communist pragmatism. Between the 1940s and the 1970s, the supreme treatise on literary criticism in China, the de facto literary Bible, was Mao Zedong’s¹ influential lectures entitledTalks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art.² Delivered on 2 and 23 May 1942, the forty-two-page, 18,000-word Talks³ was to literary criticism what his ‘Little Red Book’ was to social reform. It set the definitive tone for a ‘practical’ approach to literature and art not to be challenged in the next forty...


    • [PART FOUR Introduction]
      (pp. 303-306)

      Ideological Shakespeare did not expire in 1991 with the collapse of the USSR. Shakespeare was one of the first playwrights to whom directors of the New Europe turned. Indeed, the phrase ‘Shakespeare and the New Europe,’ the eponymous title of both a conference and, subsequently, an anthology of essays, suggestively linked the Bard to contested ideas of nation, history, truth, interpretation, and cultural formation.

      As Michael Hattaway and his colleagues argued in that book, it is ‘impossible to make sense of the present without chronicling and rethinking the past’ (17). A nuanced rethinking of the extraordinary experiments with the ideological...

    • Caliban/Cannibal/Carnival: Cuban Articulations of Shakespeare’s The Tempest
      (pp. 307-327)

      The two most significant responses to Shakespeare that have come out of Cuba in the last thirty years or so have addressedThe Tempest, a work that has been very important to the context of the Caribbean, where post-colonial re-articulations of Prospero’s island have produced radical and provocative interpretations of Shakespeare’s play.¹ In 1971 the Cuban poet and philologist Roberto Fernández Retamar published the well-known essay ‘Calibán,’ which examines the question of Latin American cultural identity and was translated into English with the explicative subtitle ‘Toward a Discussion of Culture in Our America.’² The other important Cuban response to Shakespeare’s...

    • Ideology and Performance in East German Versions of Shakespeare
      (pp. 328-348)

      The present volume, one must suppose, assumes a good deal of agreement that the criticism and theatrical production of Shakespeare in the European countries of the former Soviet Bloc deserve to be revisited. Taking this for granted, I would like to begin by raising what may well be an open question: Which, so the question can be formulated, is the most rewarding direction and the most helpful approach that a reconsideration, today, of the reception of Shakespeare in post-war Eastern Europe and beyond can adopt? No doubt a dozen or so years after the collapse of state-administered socialism in Eastern...

    • Marx Manqué: A Brief History of Marxist Shakespeare Criticism in North America, ca. 1980–ca. 2000
      (pp. 349-374)

      In the mid 1590s, Shakespeare composed a scene that has become the most famous in the world’s dramatic literature. Occurring late at night, after a grand party, the scene reveals a young girl at her window, musing on what has befallen her:

      O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?

      Deny thy father and refuse thy name;

      Or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,

      And I’ll no longer be a Capulet ...

      What’s in a name? That which we call a rose

      By any other word would smell as sweet;

      So Romeo would, were he not Romeo called,...

  11. Contributors
    (pp. 375-380)
  12. Index
    (pp. 381-400)
  13. Index of Shakespearean Plays
    (pp. 401-402)