Shakespeare and the Question of Culture

Part of the Early Modern Cultural Series book series


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


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  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
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    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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© Douglas Bruster 2003

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