This week’s language news includes the release of the book, Shakespeare in America, a book tracing the American enthusiasm for Shakespeare since even before the revolution. It contains American writings about and adaptations of Shakespeare, and is edited by James Shapiro. Some of the stories from the civil war seem particularly fitting. What was Othello like in a civil war context? What did Lincoln think of Macbeth? Why has America been so interested in Shakespeare? Perhaps because the themes in his plays echo the themes and struggles of this country. For instance, “Issues like immigration and race that couldn’t be dealt with directly could be confronted through Shakespeare,” Shapiro said. “We didn’t have a language to express our feelings about these troubling questions.”
For a brief introduction to the role of Shakespeare in the US, one can look to the National Endowment for the Arts’ page on Shakespeare in American Communities. This page long summary traces through a history of the the country beginning with the English immigrants bringing their most treasured possessions to the new world, the Complete Works among them. The NEA also shows that although Shakespeare has been considered popular entertainment for many years, recent decades have marginalized his work to a high-brow status. Not something for blue-collar workers, but for the elite, the privileged, the cultured. Part of the NEA’s work with Shakespeare is to battle this recent shift, and to keep Shakespeare’s words as a treasure open to everyone.
Some of the most encouraging news on this front is the ever present articles on young people performing Shakespeare’s plays, or people adapting Shakespeare to make it more their own. This week we can read of undergrads in Texas speak at length about the work they’ve done with the text to prepare for their performance of Romeo and Juliet. The Appalachian Women’s Theater Troupe is premiering a new play, “A Part Equal”. Dereck Davisdon, professor at Appalachian State University wrote the play around women writers influenced by Shakespeare. And with so many American theaters, and competitions and festivals focused on Shakespeare, his future looks to be at least as interesting as his past.