By: Chris Warren.
Last week’s article about Shakespeare generated a lot of positive attention, and I’m really glad so many others see themselves in his work. Regular reader “Mike in Minneapolis” responded by sending me this very enjoyable piece about an African-American interpretation of Shakespeare’s King Richard III. This is a golden opportunity to continue the discussion and address the culture and adaptability of William Shakespeare and why it’s important to everyday people.
Cultural adaptability is not some obscure concept kicked around in college seminars. Simply defined, it is how culture produced by one group of people is interpreted by other groups. It’s what makes culture worth having. What good would it be if only British people had Shakespeare? Or if only the French listened to the music of classical composer Berlioz? Is there really any point of having culture if it’s not going to be shared outside the group that created it?
“‘Who owns Shakespeare?’ one might ask. You might as well ask who has the right to breathe, to dream, to express their selves…”
–playwright Carlyle Brown
It’s important to note that not all culture is good, or used for good purposes. Adolph Hitler famously used art and music as propaganda in an attempt to convince the rest of the world that the Nazis were really nice people. We all know how that turned out.
And among the pissy-pants political left here in the USA there is a disturbing fad for whining about “cultural appropriation.” It’s from liberalism’s vast collection of manufactured outrages where pouting crybabies keep their very simple minds busy by being offended over any little ethnic/racial/religious inaccuracy. For example, swooning because a sandwich was not made to their expectations. Yes, it really does get that stupid.
Keeping it positive though, culture is a society’s statement to the outside world that says “this is who we are” and “this is what is important to us.” It’s also the only thing that lasts.
William Shakespeare has been dead for 400 years, yet his work has become a timeless hallmark of British culture and a reference to what people of his time thought and felt. His plays are so adaptable that they translate to our modern lives with amazing insight.
An African-American version of a Shakespeare play could plausibly be called “cultural appropriation,” assuming one even accepts the premise of that ridiculous concept in the first place. I absolutely do not accept it and think anyone who does is either an outright dimwit and/or has no understanding of why culture exits. King Richard III being interpreted with an African-American world view is a creative expression that should be celebrated. It demonstrates Shakespeare’s power and universal appeal.
William Shakespeare probably did not foresee the vast impact his work would have on the world, but certainly he wanted it to be appreciated by someone beyond the theatergoers who attended his live performances. Cultural adaptability is when something has meaning not just in place but also in time.
Those who create culture usually never know what ultimately becomes of it because its true value may not show up for many years, possibly centuries. Shakespeare would be pleased, I think, that a group of 19th century African-Americans found something in King Richard III that they could identify with and call their own. Shakespeare’s work said something back then that we’re still listening to now. What higher honor could any culture be given?