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Reviews Michael Hattaway, Boika Sokolova, and Derek Roper, eds. Shakespeare in the New Europe. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995. Pp. 384. $63.75. This book, jointly edited by Shakespeare scholars from the universities of Sheffield and Sofia, offers a collection of essays in which twenty-two scholars from eight European countries and the United States try to assess the impact of the collapse of Communism on the understanding of Shakespeare. Most of the papers united in this volume were presented at a conference near Sofia in 1992. Within the limits of this review only a (necessarily subjective) selection can be discussed. In spite of its title, much of the book is concerned with Shakespeare in the "old" Europe, i.e., before 1989. This extended scope is necessary, for the changes would be incomprehensible without knowing the earlier contexts. It is also highly welcome, for to many readers these chapters are probably the most interesting ones. To read side by side what Marta Gibinska and Manfred Pfister have to say about Hamlet in Poland and Germany is as instructive as to learn, from Alexander Shurbanov and Boika Sokolova, why in Bulgaria Hamlet had to share its customary eminence with Romeo and Juliet. Of all three peoples it can be said that Shakespeare served as a midwife to their national literatures: he offered them characters with whom they could identify before they had established their own nation states. German and Polish writers also used him in their struggle to shake off French influence. Under dictatorships, the fate of Shakespeare productions is a good indicator of the political climate. Quite apart from giving the outsider a coherent picture of national developments, these essays are also extremely well documented . Other essays, like those by Martin Husky (Prague) and Janja CiglarZanic (Zagreb), are moving as intensely personal accounts. Husky, a Shakespearean translator and a scholar steeped in the semiotic and structuralist traditions of his country, suggests the fascinating idea of "a history of censorship from the semiotic point of view." "Censorship," he observes, "does not merely suppress meaning but also generates it" (p. 154). His best examples come from Love's Labor's Lost. Changing the politically incorrect Muscovite mummers into Persians caused more political ill-will than the real article could have done; the lords of Navarre signalled the oppressive character of their king's academy by banging the theater's iron curtain during the oath-taking (p. 155). These anecdotes are instructive as well as enjoyable, illustrating a point which Husky makes most forcefully: such anachronisms are effective because they allude to something that is uppermost in the audience's minds. Even more moving, because so much sadder, is Janja Ciglar-Zanic's confession of "disappointment" with Western literary theories "from which I have learned so much" (p. 263, n. 4). 412 Reviews413 Compared with the "old" Europe, the "new" one seems rather less interesting to write about. Under the pressure of commercial competition theater directors in the post-communist East are rapidly becoming like their West European colleagues, pursuing anachronism as an end in itself . Only Evgenia Pancheva, writing of the Bulgarian stage in 1992, can tell of a "pleasure of [topical] recognition" (p. 247) comparable to those reported by Husky, while Thomas Sorge, comparing two East German productions of A Midsummer Night's Dream (1969 and 1992), gives an honest account of two very different processes of self-recognition . Although it is probably against the wish of the editors, it helps to distinguish between "Anglo-Saxon" and "Continental" essays. The eleven Continental contributions, endeavoring to give an overview of the critical and above all the theatrical reception of Shakespeare in their countries, constitute independent narratives which assume previous knowledge only of Shakespeare. The ten Anglo-Saxons, on the other hand, concentrate on selected problems, mainly of Shakespeare criticism , which presuppose familiarity with the current debate. That debate revolves around the "political" Shakespeare, and several essays continue it by denouncing attempts of "traditional criticism" to "appropriate" Shakespeare for the Establishment and the political Right. A refreshing exception is Harriett Hawkins' reminder that Shakespeare's splendid romantic lovers are the theatrical parts most coveted by actors and most loved by audiences, arguing that...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 412-415
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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