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Will the Modernist

Shakespeare and the European Historical Avant-Gardes


Edited By Giovanni Cianci and Caroline M. Patey

Why was the Bard of Avon so frequently on the agenda of avant-garde writers in Britain, France, Italy, Portugal, Germany and Ireland? This volume explores the rich and diverse landscape of Shakespearean encounters in the tormented aesthetics of pre- and post-World War I Europe. However manipulated, deformed or transfigured, the Renaissance dramatist was revived in infinite guises: verbal, philosophical, visual and linguistic. Was he an icon to be demolished ruthlessly as the expression of a stale past or, on the contrary, did his works offer the foundation for new and provocative artistic explorations? Was he an enemy, a foil, a mirror? As they cross the borders of European countries and languages, the essays of this book interrogate Shakespeare’s living presence and chart the multiple facets of his vibrant and chameleonic afterlives as no single volume has done before. The exploration of territories situated beyond Anglophone boundaries partly displaces the Bard from his given niche in English culture and retrieves lost or marginalized Shakespearean voices. The annotated bibliographies which complete the volume greatly extend the territory of scholarship and offer a precious map of orientation in the maze of critical works.
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George Oppitz-Trotman – Shakespeare’s Abandoned Cave: Bertolt Brecht and the Dialectic of ‘Greatness’


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Shakespeare’s Abandoned Cave: Bertolt Brecht and the Dialectic of ‘Greatness’

Many a study of Shakespeare’s plays has been rescued by the welcome circumstance that so little is known about their author. Practically the opposite is true of Bertolt Brecht, whose individual fame and authoritarian streak, assisted by mythologizing editorial policies following his death, have generally allowed radical insistence on collective theatre to be displaced by a concept of Brechtian ‘style’. This concept conforms to individualist models of theatrical production to which Brecht was hostile throughout his career, but any critic of Brecht’s work struggles to ignore Brecht’s personality: his ‘greatness’ devalues his work. Similarly, Brecht’s struggles to understand and adapt Shakespeare were overshadowed by what Brecht considered to be the problem of Shakespearean ‘greatness’: ‘A false view of greatness gets in the way of the representation of Shakespearean plays’ (Brecht: 1988q; original emphasis). Therefore no consideration of Brecht’s reception of Shakespeare can hope to get anywhere if it presents this as an encounter between ‘great’ artists.

Brecht repeatedly described the Shakespearean theatre as a product of collaborative enterprise, not individual genius. In fact, in 1940 he was ready to believe that the answer to the Shakespeare ‘authorship’ question could best be solved by postulation of a ‘small collective’ – not because Brecht did not believe a single individual could have written such erudite and diverse works (‘[the dramatist] doesn’t need to know a single word more than what he requires...

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