viernes, 25 de septiembre de 2015

For the Jacobean court, politics was theatrical and theatre was political.

Shakespeare's London:
where all the world really was a stage

by Sam Leith

1606 was not only the year of Lear, Macbeth and Antony and Cleopatra, but of plague, witchcraft and explosive politics, all vividly captured in James Shapiro’s latest tour de force

1606: Shakespeare and the Year of Lear James Shapiro - Faber, pp.423

We don’t usually pay all that much attention, as James Shapiro points out, to the Jacobean Shakespeare. We’re in the habit of thinking of him as an Elizabethan playwright: look in most cradle-to-grave biographies for ‘what Shakespeare was doing after James came to the throne in 1603 and there usually aren’t many pages left to read’.

That’s to scant his decade-long engagement with the dawning of the Stuart era. Also to ignore that, as Shapiro argues, only three cultural artefacts created during the first decade of King James’s reign still matter 400 years later: the King James Bible, the mythology of the Gunpowder Plot, and Shakespeare’s late plays.

Shakespeare, as 1606 began, was 41. The new king was just under three years on the throne, and the previous autumn the Gunpowder Plot had been uncovered. Among the subjects that were then occasioning national anxiety were the union of kingdoms (and, in shadow, mutual mistrust and the possibility of civil strife); the assassination of kings (enough of a hot potato that it was illegal even to imagine it); witchcraft and demonic possession (both feigned and real); equivocation (a political and, to an extent, theological panic was underway over the idea of ‘equivocation’ — that Jesuits were training Catholics to lie, or half-lie, under oath); and a cautious nostalgia for the Elizabethan age.

1606 was not just, rhymingly, the year of Lear; it was also the year ofMacbeth and Antony and Cleopatra. And Shapiro shows how all these disparate national anxieties come roaring into the work. 1606, in the tradition of the author’s breakthrough book 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare, zeroes in on its particular historical moment to explain, in detail, how this worked. In doing so he illuminates the plays and shows how intensely particular in origin these universal dramas are.

The Shakespeare Shapiro painstakingly and subtly presents here is a virtuoso remix artist, a textual sponge, a magpie, a master-orchestrator of the Zeitgeist. The grand issues of the day ran through his work at the level not only of theme but of language itself. Pre-1603, the words ‘England’ and ‘English’ appeared 224 and 132 times respectively; in his Jacobean work, only 21 and 18 times. ‘British’ never appeared before 1603, and ‘Britain’ only twice; the latter ‘occurs that many times in King Lear alone, and 29 times in all his Jacobean plays’. ‘Equivocation’ —previously only once seen in Shakespeare’s work, in the gravedigger scene in Hamlet —percolates through Macbeth.


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