Last Saturday, I attended the opening night of Emma Rice’s imaginative and playful Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Globe, and was thoroughly engrossed in a production that managed to be both reverential and irreverent. Staging Shakespeare is akin to walking a tightrope, as the plays were written for audiences four hundred years ago yet can still have something to say to us today. So the fact that Rice acrobatically balances an astute reading of the gender politics and homoeroticism within Elizabethan culture with a lively satire of twenty-first century London is some achievement.
Today Shakespeare is the most performed playwright in many places around the world, including in countries very proud of their own literary traditions. To take the example of the country closest to my interests, despite French being referred to as “la langue de Molière” and English as “la langue de Shakespeare”, more of Shakespeare’s than Molière’s plays are staged every year in France. The prominence of the Avignon theatre festival, with its incredibly atmospheric spaces, such as the courtyard of the Palais des Papes, has in no small part contributed to this. Indeed, from Jean Vilar’s production of Richard II in the inaugural festival in 1947, to Vincent Macaigne’s Au moins j’aurai laissé un beau cadavre (At least I’ll have left a nice body) and its blood-soaked bouncy castle in 2011, Avignon has played host to many bold interpretations of Stratford’s local lad.
We’ll be considering some of these on June 8, as as part of Senate House Library’s Metamorphosis season. We’ve got an action-packed day exploring Shakespeare in various French guises, which includes looking at Victor Hugo’s celebration of the Will’s genius, translingual productions, as well as a screening of Marcel Carné’s classic, Les Enfants du paradis. We’ll also be looking to declaim Henry VI in English and in French. The lofty aim is to go some way to understanding how Shakespeare has become such a global (no pun intended) phenomenon. I hope we can count on the attendance of many groundlings in the yard.
Dr Dominic Glynn is Lecturer in French Studies at the Institute of Modern Languages Research. For more information and to book tickets, see the Study Day: Shakespeare in French event page.