Shakespeare’s representation of Human Universal Matters
In the theatre, universal availability forms just one part of the cultural value of Shakespeare. The important component of his value is that Shakespeare can be used to negotiate between and encompass a variety of cultural value tensions. If a cultural object such as Shakespeare is valued for its local specificity by some, others value its ability to bridge global boundaries and speak to a world audience. With the growth of this new discipline, the notion that culture was only „perfection‟ or „the best‟ was challenged. Whilst anthropological studies of culture move beyond the arts it is still important to consider their significant role in the development of twentieth-century cultural studies. Despite my own reservations, the tensions below are delineated under „high‟ and „low‟, partly because this is how the debate has played out in cultural commentary and government policy, and partly because these tensions need rethinking. Although they are theoretically, and ethically, unfashionable they can be used in more nuanced and interesting ways in order to produce cultural value. Contradictions can be productive if they are seen as part of a mutually reaffirming relationship which can promote dialecticism, debate and negotiation.
While the language of Shakespeare’s play was retained, if problematical, the narrative and
style of the production were dictated by filmic references and twentieth-century music.
Shakespeare becomes the linking factor between two apparent oppositions and he is given this responsibility because of a continuing belief in his universalism as a signifier and his flexibility. He must be at once national and international, excellent and accessible, innovative and traditional. A critical argument is that tensions of cultural value are not governed by conflict, but by negotiation. Value creation occurs as part of this process of negotiation between, for example, local/global, innovation/tradition or mass-produced/unique. We make meaning through the construction of oppositions and this meaning can be turned into cultural value. It does not accrue this value because it denies Shakespeare’s historicity but rather because it plays with our understanding of that historical grounding. It asks its audience to make their own assessments about where Shakespeare lies on the modern/early modern cultural axis and in creating this dialectic it creates further cultural value.
When championed as the national playwright and an international cultural figure he becomes something else entirely. In the recent past, cultural value has become an increasingly hot topic with publications being testament to the current interest in matters surrounding value and culture. However, in spite of this development, the panoply of works which have been written about culture also reveals an abundance of continuities. The frequency with which such tensions occur is worth noting, particularly the tensions between intrinsic/instrumental, high/low, tradition/innovation, authentic/inauthentic. These binary groupings have dictated and continue to dictate the paradigms of the cultural value discussion and affect not only the way culture is written about but also the way in which Shakespeare is produced for and consumed by a twenty-first-century audience.
The problem of finding a language with which to precisely and definitively explain
culture value is evident in the ambiguous and unclear nature of Capturing Cultural Value itself.
Embedded in this narrative of sexual discovery and freedom from an oppressive authority in-education are many of the accepted cultural values of Shakespeare. By taking part in the secret performance the students learn more about themselves than about the playwright. What they discover, is that there is a tension between educational and entertaining Shakespeare and that it is through performance that they can gain a greater understanding of his works.
Shakespeare’s ability to speak to times other than his own is reaffirmed and his status as a traditional figure is at once highlighted and eroded. Theatre’s value as a locus for negotiation between tensions can be exploited both successfully and unsuccessfully by adaptors of Shakespeare. Such tensions and binaries may seem false, even anachronistic, in the plural, inclusive culture of twenty-first-century. These tensions may not be theoretically, or ethically, fashionable but they govern the aesthetics of cultural production in twenty-first-century theatre. In a theatrical environment in which adaptations constitute nearly half of all productions, notions of high and low culture, mass and elite, live and mediated continue to influence the cultural value of Shakespeare-in-performance.
Despite their difference, both forms of adaptation those that present tensions as straightforward confrontations and those that figure tensions as negotiations make statements about the cultural value of Shakespeare in the twenty-first century. He is presented as both potentially relevant and already irrelevant. As a cultural object he becomes part of a
process which champions the new whilst still idealizing Shakespeare as a locus of tradition. It
is this canonical status that provides the impetus for adaptations. Shakespeare in all his
disparity, embodying many cultural value tensions, remains immanent in all twenty-first-
century adaptations. This inherent Shakespeare provides legitimization and cultural clout and,
in irreverent reworking, the opportunity to reject Shakespearean hegemony. This rejection
will always be predicated on an initial acceptance of Shakespeare as content provider or
Delbanco, Nicholas, and Cheuse, Alan. Literature: Craft and Voice, 2nd Ed. New York, U.S.A, mCgRAW-Hill Education, 2012