University of Leicester eBulletin

Shakespeare and English Identity

January 2003
No 23

Research carried out at the University of Leicester Department of English casts a new look at the role Shakespeare has played in the establishment of an English identity.

Dr Richard Foulkes’ recent book, Performing Shakespeare in the Age of Empire, sets out to explain why Shakespeare has become an English cultural icon through global performances of his plays.

It is generally agreed that Shakespeare is one of the most influential dramatists ever. His plays have been revisited in every age and almost everywhere in the world.

However, not so well known is the amazing range of responses to his work. Different cultures have interpreted his plays according to their own lights and own period.

Dr Foulkes commented: “The fact that English has become the international language may owe something to Shakespeare. He is not only popular where English is spoken but has his place world-wide. At home, he has also been appropriated by just about every lobby politically and socially.”

He believes that the performance of Shakespeare’s plays overseas has helped significantly to create a sense of British nationhood and to extend Britain’s influence overseas.

“Shakespeare has perhaps now become over-identified with education. We need to remember that he wrote to entertain (and earn his living!).”

Nowadays performances of Shakespeare at the theatre are no less popular, even though they have to compete with many other form of entertainment such as film, television and video.

Dr Foulkes’ interest in literary performances is not just limited to Shakespeare. He is currently working on a book about Lewis Carroll and the Victorian Theatre.

Performing Shakespeare in the Age of Empire, by Dr Richard Foulkes is published by Cambridge University Press, price £40.

NOTE TO EDITORS:  Further information is available from Dr Richard Foulkes, University of Leicester Department of English, telephone 0116 252 2642, facsimile 0116 252 2065, email rf24@le.ac.uk

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