How we can relate Shakespeare to the politics of our time.
Shakespeare moves towards a democratic concept of society over the course of his plays. His dramatisation of how societies hold together or break apart has fresh significance in an age when democracy faces new challenges at a global level. These are some of the conclusions of Gabriel Chanan’s illuminating new approach to Shakespeare’s plays.
Chanan argues that even though Shakespeare could know nothing of modern democracy, he played a fundamental role in building the culture that underlies it. But democracy is still historically young, an incomplete global experiment, facing internal and external challenges and open to accusations of being misused to disguise exploitation. It needs continuing sustenance from Shakespeare’s critique of autocracy and models of open-ended thinking.
Using abundant illustration from the plays, Chanan’s argument is accessible to those without specialist knowledge, yet throws new light on academic debates. He traces the political significance of Shakespeare in terms of development across his work. There are critical turning points: from depicting the external actions of kings to their dreams and nightmares; from critiquing individual reigns to questioning the institution of monarchy; from exposing the errors and evils of rulers to the question of how others can repair the damage. There are also contradictory elements, but ultimately it is Shakespeare’s method, even more than his subject matter, which is essential to democracy, showing that there is no fixed right perception of reality, which must be managed by the interaction of opposites.
Teachers will find this book immensely useful in explaining to pupils why Shakespeare is relevant now, and where the political themes of an individual play fit into the wider pattern of his work. It gives the essential historical context succinctly and tackles theory with a light touch.
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The thematic approach to Shakespeare explored in SHAKESPEARE and DEMOCRACY has spawned two full length shows currently being toured in the South East by Gabriel with the Rattle An' Roll Players. 'Shakespeare's Dreams and Nightmares' was launched at the Windsor Fringe Festival, 24 Sept 2016. Tickets from £10-50 at www.osoarts.org.uk or 0208 876 9885. Special deal for schools and colleges. There will be more showings in 2017. To be kept informed, just let me know, at email@example.com
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