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Globe to Globe

Your Humble Blogger has been very much enjoying reading the reviews of plays in the Globe to Globe project of the World Shakespeare Festival and the London 2012 Festival of the Cultural Olympiad. This is the project to have the 37 Shakespeare plays performed at the Globe, each by a different company, each in a different language. It’s an ambitious idea, just logistically, and they have already had to deal with some lost costumes and set pieces and so forth. But they are doing it, and is seems to be going quite well.

Now, my initial reaction was not actually very positive. I don’t much like the idea of Shakespeare in translation. I would undoubtedly feel differently if I weren’t a monolingual English speaker, but I really think that the wonderful thing about William Shakespeare’s writing is the language. The plots aren’t even his, of course. I don’t much care for the structure of most of them, and of course most good productions these days carve up the structure, often by moving bits around but at least by making cuts. You could argue that he’s wonderful at character, which he is, but he creates those characters through language more than through situation or action. It’s the language of Shakespeare that is Shakespearean; you wouldn’t call anything Shakespearean for any other reason than the language. Well, most of that is seriously overstated—people call performances Shakespearean just to say that they are both good and large-spirited, even in a play with very different language. And people who screw with the structure of his plays as often make things worse rather than better. And with the plots, there is much that is original and good in the way plots are presented or the way subplots interact, and besides, original plots are gimmicks. Still and all, William Shakespeare ain’t Ira Levin or Anthony Shaffer or Agatha Christie, any of whom (YHB is guessing) would lose very little in translation.

Do you know what did it for me? The Guarniad reviewer that mentioned, in passing, that a fair chunk of the audience were native speakers of the language in question. Mentioned it a bunch of times, for a bunch of different plays in a bunch of different languages. Because it’s London. So there’s an audience of Zimbabweans, there’s an audience of Bangladeshis, there’s an audience of Italians. There’s an audience that speaks Mandarin, there’s an audience that speaks Hindi, there’s an audience that speaks Madri. The Kenyans in London came to the show, the Greeks in London came to the show, the Poles in London came to the show. Because it’s London.

My mistake was in thinking of the thing as a way to show off Shakespeare’s plays. It is, of course, although they scarcely need it; you could just make a list of how many Shakespeare plays are being performed to day, in which languages, in which countries, to how many people, without bringing them to the Globe. No, the best way to think about the Globe to Globe is as a way to show off London.

Of course, that’s why cities spend a gazillion dollars to host the Olympic Games, to show off. People don’t say Let’s bid for the Olympics so local people can see the two-hundred-meter butterfly. They say Let’s bid for the Olympics so that everyone in the world will want to visit here, spend money here, and maybe even move here. Not that there are travel agents anymore. But you know what I mean. The problem is that sporting events are a really terrible way to show off a city; did Salt Lake City really get to show off? Turin? Lillehammer? Mexico City? No. Beijing, maybe, and at that only because everybody was so down on the city in the lead-up. And, to be honest, London is London, and nobody in Harare or Phuket or Dhaka or Oslo is just learning about it now. Still. What a thing, to send thirty-seven companies back home (and on tour) saying We played Shakespeare in London and they talked the mammyloshen in thirty-seven languages. And what a thing for the people who live there who speak Gujarati or Juba or Albanian, to find themselves Londoners, too, in the festival.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,