The Shaping of a Comparative Perspective
Edited By Peter Kallaway and Rebecca Swartz
Chapter Four: ‘A Test of Civilisation’? Shakespeare, the Anglican Church and Mission Education in Victorian Grahamstown
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‘A Test OF Civilisation’?
Shakespeare, the Anglican Church and Mission Education in Victorian Grahamstown
In the nineteenth century nothing symbolised Englishness so much as Shakespeare, increasingly invented—as the century wore on—as a national cultural symbol. Along with other manifestations of Englishness, and the English language, Shakespeare was exported to the colonies, particularly those expanding areas of white settlement where Shakespeare was read, performed and studied in schools, just as in Britain. Towards the end of the century visiting companies brought a flavour of the London stage to North America, India, Australia and New Zealand. And to South Africa, too. Here, perhaps more than in the other colonies of white settlement, Shakespeare was associated with maintaining the values and culture of civilisation in a place, and at a time, where this was perceived as being under threat. Here, it has been argued, can be found Shakespeare as archetypal symbol of cultural imperialism.1
Yet there are also alternative Shakespeares, other ways of viewing Shakespeare’s global dissemination. Scholarship has turned from a preoccupation with Shakespeare as cultural imperialism, an inevitable accompaniment to imperial expansion, to an interest in the ways in which people have responded to Shakespeare, exercising their own agency, bringing their own cultural readings and values to the encounter. In some situations Shakespeare, it is said, is appropriated, turned around—and used—by those who have come to his plays...
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