- Shakespeare and Scandinavia: A Collection of Nordic Studies
This is the ninth volume in a series titled International Studies in Shakespeare and His Contemporaries, edited by Jay L. Halio, originally designed to help Shakespeareans unfamiliar with discourse outside the English-speaking community to keep abreast of what goes on elsewhere in Shakespearean studies. This volume of Nordic studies differs slightly from this concept. It collects eleven essays or excerpts from longer studies, some of them previously published in one of the Scandinavian languages, translated and occasionally annotated by the editor; others written specially for [End Page 106] this collection; and one or two already published in English. The sources, however, are not always given with bibliographical precision.
The earliest item, from a pamphlet written by August Strindberg and published in Stockholm in 1908, is a very lively and personal discussion of Julius Caesar as "Shakespeare's Historical Drama," which, he states, exercised a decisive influence on his own historical plays. In a curious aside, Strindberg admits that he has "never understood Shakespeare's sonnets," the stumbling-block being apparently the general impression that they are "about Männerliebe" (28). The most recent contribution, though not explicitly dated, is a moving account by the editor of the immensely successful 1944 anti-Nazi production of Merchant of Venice in Stockholm and its reception, which apparently did not quite follow director Alf Sjöberg and leading actor Holger Löwenadler's intentions. Sorelius's conclusion is both sobering and reassuring: "Spectators can to some extent be controlled by the director. Programs and reviews may also influence their response, but in the last analysis their own experiences and prejudices decide what a play means" (205).
Alf Sjöberg had also written a number of program notes, published in book form after his death; one, on Antony and Cleopatra, is the second item of this collection. It offers some perceptive remarks on the play's characters and some provocative speculation on its links with the Sonnets: "With Cleopatra Shakespeare revenges himself for the greatest degradation of his life" (39). The following two essays are by a nonacademic Shakespeare enthusiast named Gunnar Sjögren who retired from business to devote himself to the study of Shakespeare and Elizabethan history. His essay "Was Othello Black?," which first appeared in 1958 in Swedish, is a remarkably sensible and level-headed discussion of the hero's color and race. No source is given for the other contribution by Sjögren, "The Geography of Hamlet," a valuable extended note on the word Danskers, which appears in Hamlet (2.1.7).1
Kristian Smidt, the best-known and most influential Norwegian Shakespeare scholar, in his contribution "Improvisation and Revision in Shakespeare's Plays" takes up some of the problems discussed in his four-volume series of Unconformities (1982–93). His observations on structural inconsistencies and traces of revision in many of Shakespeare's plays are mostly convincing and a useful reminder of the texts' ever-provisional state. Keith Brown appears to have written his "On Construction and Significance in Shakespearean Drama" specially for this volume. It is a relatively modest, if somewhat partisan, plea for deliberate number symbolism and significantly symmetrical scene construction in several of Shakespeare's plays within a culture more obsessed with symbolic patterns than many Shakespeareans choose to recognize. Roger D. Sell's essay "Henry V and the Strength and Weakness of Words: Shakespearean Philology, Historicist Criticism, Communicative Pragmatics" is the longest in the collection. It is a wide-ranging and highly stimulating discussion of the role of modern philology within literary Shakespeare criticism and, in particular, the complex relationship between language and action in Henry V. A brief note on "Metrical and Deictical [End Page 107] Problems in Shakespeare Translation" by Clas Zilliacus, author of a Swedish version of Hamlet, picks out two points confronting the translator (blank verse and the you/thou option), both, of course, applicable to more than one language. Niels B. Hansen's contribution offers an interesting account of George...