Where is Shakespeare in the 21st Century?

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The RSC’s  Such Tweet Sorrow, Comedy Central’s Fakespeare, and the meme blog Shakespeare Obsessed Sparrow: these are just a few of the manifestations of Shakespeare in the first decade of the 21st Century that viewers, listeners, tweeters, and surfers can experience. In our investigations to locate Shakespeare’s works and influence we encountered the outlandish, diverse, edgy, and downright politically incorrect. ‘We’ are Gabrielle Malcolm (UK) and Kelli Marshall (US) and as joint editors on this project journeyed on a virtual global tour thanks to our contributors, uncovering Shakespeare in familiar and unfamiliar circles.

Initially, our plan was to view the National Theatre Live’s broadcast of King Lear from the Donmar Warehouse as a simultaneous transatlantic experience. Based in the UK and US we would watch together the ‘live’ performances from Derek Jacobi and the rest of the cast, tweeting to each other our responses along the way. Then, we would discuss this hybrid theatrical-cinematic event for the “Shakespeare on Film, TV, and Video” panel at the 2011 PCA/ACA Conference in San Antonio, TX. But that was not how Fortune’s wheel turned, so to speak. Rather, we soon realised that ‘liveness’ in terms of NT Live’s digital broadcast was relative.

It turned out it was not possible to enjoy such a live-streaming together. Gabrielle’s experience at the Little Theatre, Bath was actually ‘live’, whilst Kelli engaged with the production in Ann Arbor, Michigan, as a ‘live’ recording (other viewers across the USA and Canada experienced the same as Kelli). This consequence, far from causing our submission to falter, however, opened up new, further possibilities for our project.

We decided that our different experiences with NT Live could develop into an assessment of different receptions of the performance and an enquiry into ‘liveness’, especially since these ‘cinemacasts’ are becoming more and more popular. This then prompted a phase of discovery and critical engagement that saw us locating and attempting to piece together some of the experiences of Shakespeare in different forms throughout the first decade of the twenty-first century.

We started to put together a volume of essays. Very quickly, thanks to our excellent contributors, we were able to ascertain the reach of Shakespeare’s work and influence. New lines of enquiry, for example, have opened up with Shakespeare’s presence in contemporary adaptations within Mumbai, Malagasy, and Jewish ‘revenge’ cinema (chapters from Vanessa Gerhards and Andrew Marzoni). These are emerging through direct adaptation and also via generic influences. As well as this, there is a timely assessment of the Branagh canon from Jessica Maerz as she considers the mixed reception of his material (including on pay-per-view TV) over recent years.

There is also a new raft of Shakespeare versions in Young Adult literature, Manga, Anime, and Graphic Novel form. Some of these are brand new markets in publishing, and others are spin-offs from existing popular series, such as Neil Gaiman’s graphic novels (the Sandman series) and Andy Griffiths’ Just!… novels for teens. How these dovetail with Shakespeare in the classroom is analysed by Marina Gerzic and Shannon Mortimore-Smith.

Daragh Downes takes no prisoners in his dismantling of the BBC’s ShakespeaRE-Told series, and the analysis of Shakespeare on the small screen continues thanks to Peter Babiak and Emily Saidel. Their critiques involve the Canadian series Slings and Arrows, and the fictional depiction of Shakespeare onscreen via Dr Who’s time-travelling adventures. The occurrences of Shakespeare in the twenty-first century are frequent and take many forms.

Digital Shakespeares also figure prominently in our volume: thanks to the British Library, Ryan McCarthy is able to analyse the impact of the Folio and Quarto manuscripts made available online. Moreover, major archive and recording projects, as experimental and interactive engagements, are considered by Beverley Hart (the National Video Archive of Performance at the V&A) and James E. Wermers (the Shakespeare’s Globe, London, Cinema Series). Finally, Zachary Snider’s take on the experimental is also included, with a critique on the immersive, interactive performance of Sleep No More by Punchdrunk Theatre. 

Compiling this collection of essays showed us how frequently Shakespeare’s works cross cultural boundaries, and how their impact and reach are arising in new fields all the time. One thing is certain: however far we progress into this new century Shakespeare will be there.

As well the intriguing new strands of performance possible on sites such as Twitter and Tumblr, amongst the most surprising uses of Shakespeare have come about thanks to the mash-up concept. This hybridisation and blending together of different forms and styles has resulted in cultural and performance variety that will continue to excite and entertain. Shakespeare & Hitchcock, Shakespeare & Dr Seuss, Shakespeare & Tarantino, Shakespeare & Bollywood – pick a form, pick a style and Shakespeare can complete the equation it seems.



Locating Shakespeare in the Twenty-First Century edited by Gabrielle Malcolm  & Kelli Marshall is available from Cambridge Scholars Publishing and can be ordered via The Shakespeare Bookshop bookshop@shakespeare.org.uk or Amazon. Follow us on Twitter @gabymalcolm and @KelliMarshall and find us on Facebook.

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Author:Gabrielle Malcolm

Gabrielle Malcolm is the Visiting Research Fellow in English at Canterbury Christ Church University. As well as collaborating on Shakespeare with Kelli Marshall (De Paul University), she publishes extensively on Victorian Women Writers, including as a contributor to the Journal of Victorian Culture Online. Gabrielle has taught in colleges and universities throughout the UK and presented papers at conferences worldwide, such as the SAA and BSA, the British Association of Victorian Studies, and Popular Culture Association.

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