Recent Shakespearean productions, just like current European crises, have highlighted the exclusionary nature of European identity. In defining the scope of this special issue, the aim of this introduction is to shift the study of Shakespeare in/and Europe away from the ideological field of “unity within diversity” and its attendant politics of negotiation and mediation. Instead, it investigates whether re-situating Shakespearean analysis within regimes of exclusionary politics and group conflict attitudes helps to generate dynamic cultural and social understandings. To what effect is Shakespeare’s work invoked in relation with the tensions inherent in European societies? Can such invocations encourage reflections on Europe as a social, political and/or cultural entity? Is it possible to conceptualize Shakespearean drama as offering an effective instrument that connects―or not―the voices of the people of Europe?
This essay investigates the ways in which Shakespearean production speaks to France and wider European crises in 2015 and 2016. The Tempest and Romeo and Juliet were directed by Jérôme Hankins and Eric Ruf respectively in December 2015 and reflected significant contemporaneous issues, including: (1) two Paris terrorist attacks which sent shock waves throughout France and Europe; (2) the belief that shared identities were under threat; (3) concerns over shifting power dynamics in Europe. The portrayal of these issues and their reception bring into question the extent to which cultural productions can help to promote social change or shape perceptions of national and pan-European events. This essay focuses on whether the plays successfully complicate binary narratives around cultural politics in a context of crises by creating alternative representations of difference and mobilities. It concludes that appropriating Shakespeare’s cultural authority encourages some degree of public debate. However, the function of Shakespeare’s drama remains strongly connected to its value as an agent of cultural, political and commercial mobility, ultimately making it difficult radically to challenge ideologies.
In this interview acclaimed director Declan Donnellan, co-founder of the company Cheek by Jowl, discusses his experience of performing Shakespeare in Europe and the attendant themes of cultural difference, language and translation. Donnellan evokes his company’s commitment to connecting with audiences globally. He keeps returning to Shakespeare, as his theatre enables the sharing of our common humanity. It allows a flesh-and-blood carnal interchange between the actors and the audience which directly affects individuals. This interchange has significant consequences in terms of translation and direction.
The article explores the potential “healing” role performance art can have when representing disabling trauma, and engaging, as part of the creative process, participants who have experienced in their lives significant trauma and physical, as well as mental health concerns arising from gender violence. It focuses on the show cicatrix macula, performed during the exhibition Speaking Out: Women Healing from the Trauma of Violence (Leicester, 2014). The exhibition involved disabled visual and creative artists, and engaged participants in the process of performance making. It was held at the Attenborough Arts Centre in Leicester (UK), a pioneering arts centre designed to be inclusive and accessible. The show cicatrix macula focused on social, cultural, mental, and physical representations of trauma and disability, using three lacerated life-size puppets to illustrate these depictions. Working under the direction of the audience, two artists attempted to “repair” the bodies. The creative process was a collaborative endeavour: the decision-making process rested with the audience, whose privileged positions of witness and meaning-maker were underscored. Fayard demonstrates the significance of cicatrix macula in debunking ablist gender norms, as well as in highlighting the role played by social and cultural enablers. She calls attention to its potential for mobilizing positive identity politics, including for viewers who had experienced trauma. For example, the environment of the participatory performance space offered some opportunities for the survivor to become the author or arbiter of her own recovery. In addition, the constant physical exchange of bodies within this space of debate was well-suited to the (re)connection with the self and with others.