- Shakespeare in the Worlds of Communism and Socialism
This volume of essays represents a significant contribution to the growing field of the appropriations and adaptations of Shakespeare in the communist world from the time of the Bolshevik revolution until the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Thus, this book, which grew out of two conferences, is timely because communist, socialist, and post- communist engagements with Shakespeare have waited to be thoroughly assessed. In their introduction, the editors briefly map the history of Shakespeare productions in the Communist world, focusing mostly on the Soviet Union. Most contributions are concerned with a few countries of the former Communist Eastern bloc; there are also essays on Cuba and China. The book closes with an essay on Marxist Shakespeare criticism in the United States, which does not quite function as a coda because it is a survey of Marxist debates about Shakespeare, mostly in Anglo-American criticism. Those debates do not quite capture either the spirit or the gloom of the material [End Page 264] conditions within which Shakespeare was produced under Communism and socialist regimes.
This volume gathers together a significant and important archive of evidence about Shakespeare theater productions from the time when social realism and Marxism defined approaches to Shakespeare in Europe. The story of the Communist Shakespeare told in these essays is not that of a uniformly vulgar and simplified ideological tweaking of his works. Rather, the essays are grouped historically to suggest "this complicated and by no means straightforward or evolutionary trajectory of the fortunes of Shakespeare's reputation" (5). The editors also point out "the deeply ambivalent nature of Communist Shakespeare" aimed at once to serve and to subvert state ideologies (5). The book, therefore, rightly emphasizes a nuanced ideological and cultural variety in the Communist uses of Shakespeare.
European states treated here include Russia and Ukraine, the Soviet Union as a political entity, Poland, Hungary, the former East Germany, the Czech Republic, and Latvia. Of the non-European (post-)Communist states, only China and Cuba are represented. While it is understandable that no book can live up to the comprehensiveness promised in its title, it is nevertheless a pity that Shakespeare in the Worlds of Communism and Socialism does not contain essays on Romania, a country with a rich theater culture and history of communist appropriations of Shakespeare; Bulgaria;1 or two other Baltic countries, Estonia and Lithuania, as little is known of these countries' communist receptions of Shakespeare.
In addition to these scholarly lacunae, the omission of the former Yugoslavia is apparent. The editors' (erroneous) claim that "Czechoslovakia and Poland . . . recorded more of their history [of Communist Shakespeare and theater] than Yugoslavia" (9) appears to justify the absence of the former Yugoslavia from their analysis. However, the history of productions, translations, criticism, and even film adaptations of Shakespeare in Communist Yugoslavia is substantial and well documented. The archives (some specializing in theater history) and resources in much of that region—especially in Slovenia, Croatia, and Serbia—are accessible; there are also scholars in those countries who have written competently and provocatively about the status of Communist and post-Communist Shakespeare, particularly in light of the Serbo-Croatian wars. I point this out in order to suggest that in a book on Communist and socialist Shakespeare, a study of the former Yugoslavia would have added another and different dimension to this rich array of essays and topics. (Instead, we have several essays on East Germany, which, more or less, tell a similar story.) Communism's different status in the former Yugoslavia (in which the country's official ideology was only referred to as "socialism") created a specific version of Shakespeare onstage, in which Shakespeare afforded an opportunity for larger commentaries on political and social spheres. [End Page 265]
The essays are organized in four groups. Since most of the essays cover the period of the Cold War, it is not clear why...