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Shakespeare and the Question of Culture

  • Douglas Bruster
Part of the Early Modern Cultural Series book series

Abstract

Is Shakespeare a cultural author? On the face of it, this question has an easy answer. Shakespeare is everywhere in our culture. His works dominate the curriculum in literature departments; his plays are regularly and widely produced, including, in the past two decades, the appearance of numerous film versions; and artists continue to draw on his plays and poetry alike for their ballets, paintings, operas, musicals, and poems. Quotations from his works dot the public record, lending prestige and authority to those who quote them. Somewhat recently, an Anglo-American romance with Shakespeare—with his works, and with notions of greatness those works have come to embody—was celebrated with an Academy Award-winning film, Shakespeare in Love, a film that could have been titled In Love with Shakespeare. For their part, literary critics have encouraged this love affair, benefited from it, and have sometimes commented wryly on it. Noting the playwright’s “extraordinary cultural stamina,” Michael Bristol goes on to observe, simply, that “Shakespeare has made the big time.”1 For Marjorie Garber, Shakespeare’s cultural role is best described with the language not of the celebrity marketplace but of the analyst’s couch; Shakespeare has been and currently is “fetishized in Western popular—as well as Western high—culture,” and functions as “the dream-space of nostalgia for the aging undergraduate (that is to say, for just about everyone).”2

Keywords

Literary Critic Valuable Product Literary Text Oxford English Dictionary Extensive Sense 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    Michael Bristol, Big-time Shakespeare (London and New York: Routledge, 1996), 1. On Shakespeare’s cultural function in an American context, see also Bristol’s Shakespeare’s America, America’s Shakespeare (London and New York: Routledge, 1990).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Marjorie Garber, “Shakespeare as Fetish,” Shakespeare Quarterly 41.2 (1990): 242–50; quotations at 242, 243.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    See Harold Bloom, Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human (New York: Riverhead Books, 1998).Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    As Nancy Armstrong points out, the “cultural turn” is “a permutation of the linguistic turn” that affected the humanities and social sciences during the latter half of the twentieth century. See Nancy Armstrong, “Who’s Afraid of the Cultural Turn?” differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 12.1 (2001): 17–49; 18. On the “cultural turn,”CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  10. The inadequacy of my simplification here will be apparent to those who consult Geoff Eley’s “Is All the World a Text? From Social History to the History of Society Two Decades Later,” in The Historic Turn in the Human Sciences, ed. Terrence J. MacDonald (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996), 193–243;Google Scholar
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    David Harris Sacks, “Searching for ‘Culture’ in the English Renaissance,” Shakespeare Quarterly 39 (1988): 465–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  20. 10.
    Leah S. Marcus, Puzzling Shakespeare: Local Reading and its Discontents (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 219.Google Scholar
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  22. 11.
    Albert H. Tricomi, Reading Tudor-Stuart Texts Through Cultural Historicism (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1996), ix, 1–22.Google Scholar
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    See Michael Dobson, The Making of the National Poet: Shakespeare, Adaptation and Authorship, 1660–1769 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992), 1 ff., where Dobson adapts the phrase from Joseph C. Hart;Google Scholar
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  26. 16.
    See, for example, Francis Mulhern, Culture/Metaculture (London: Routledge, 2000), xvi;Google Scholar
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    Matthew Arnold, “Culture and Anarchy: An Essay in Political and Social Criticism,” in “Culture and Anarchy” and “Friendship’s Garland” (New York: Macmillan and Co., 1883), xi.Google Scholar
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    A. L. Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn, Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions (1952; New York: Vintage Books, 1966), 357.Google Scholar
  30. This definition, again, is a condensed and revised version of that written by Charles A. Ellwood for H. Fairchild’s Dictionary of Sociology (New York: Philosophical Society, 1944). See Kroeber and Kluckhohn, Culture, 65–66.Google Scholar
  31. 25.
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  32. 27.
    Louis Montrose, “The Work of Gender in the Discourse of Discovery,” Representations 33 (1991): 1—41; quotations at 5, 2. Emphasis in the original.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. 28.
    Geraldo U. de Sousa, Shakespeare’s Cross-Cultural Encounters (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999), 5.Google Scholar
  34. 32.
    In addition to de Sousa, Shakespeare’s Cross-Cultural Encounters, see, for example, Stephen Greenblatt, “Invisible Bullets: Renaissance Authority and its Subversion,” Glyph 8 (1981): 40–61.Google Scholar
  35. 34.
    Christopher Pye, The Vanishing: Shakespeare, the Subject, and Early Modern Culture (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000), 13.Google Scholar
  36. 35.
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  37. and Charles Kindleberger, “Lumpers and Splitters in Economics, A Note,” American Economist 44 (Spring 2000): 88–92.Google Scholar
  38. 37.
    For a recent study that actively multiplies the objects of cultural inquiry, see Juliet Fleming, Graffiti and the Writing Arts of Early Modern England (London: Reaktion Books, 2001); Fleming’s argument takes up such objects and practices as pots and graffiti.Google Scholar
  39. 38.
    See, for instances of criticism that examine these social objects alongside early modern plays, Lena Cowen Orlin, “The Performance of Things in The Taming of the Shrew,” TES 23 (1993): 167–88;Google Scholar
  40. and Natasha Korda, “Household Kates: Domesticating Commodities in The Taming of the ShrewShakespeare Quarterly 47 (1996): 109–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. 39.
    To my mind, some of the more compelling accounts of what one could describe, in terms that simplify the issue, the relationship between literature and society include those of Pierre Macherey, A Theory of Literary Production, trans. Geoffrey Wall (London and Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978);Google Scholar
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  45. 40.
    Douglas Bruster, Drama and the Market in the Age of Shakespeare (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. 43.
    I have discussed some of the factors that contributed to early modern drama’s heterogeneity in Quoting Shakespeare, esp. 15–16, 44–45. For Hegel’s arguments concerning drama’s representational status, see G. W. F. Hegel, Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art, trans. T. M. Knox, 2 volumes (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975). Hegel believed in the expressive power of drama to such an extent that he called it “the most perfect totality of content and form,” going on to say that “it must be regarded as the highest stage of poetry and of art generally” (vol. 2, 1158). To Hegel, drama combined lyric’s satisfaction of the need “for self-expression and for the apprehension of the mind in its own self-expression” with epic’s “objective presentation of a self-grounded world, made real in virtue of its own necessity” (vol. 2, 1047, 1113).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    See Ann Moss, Printed Commonplace-Books and the Structuring of Renaissance Thought (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1956), vi, viii, 211.Google Scholar
  48. 45.
    Quoted and translated in E. K. Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage, 4 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1923), vol. 2, 364–66.Google Scholar
  49. 47.
    Louis Montrose, The Purpose of Playing: Shakespeare and the Cultural Politics of the Elizabethan Theatre (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), xii.Google Scholar
  50. 48.
    Louis Montrose, “A Midsummer Nighf’s Dream and the Shaping Fantasies of Elizabethan Culture: Gender, Power, Form,” in Rewriting the Renaissance: The Discourses of Sexual Difference in Early Modern Europe, ed. Margaret W. Ferguson, Maureen Quilligan, and Nancy J. Vickers (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986), 65–87.Google Scholar
  51. 49.
    George Puttenham, The Arte of English Poesie, ed. Gladys Doidge Willcock and Alice Walker (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1936), 185, 195–96.Google Scholar
  52. 50.
    Kenneth Burke, A Grammar of Motives (New York: Prentice-Hall, 1945), 508.Google Scholar

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© Douglas Bruster 2003

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  • Douglas Bruster

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