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Title: Hamlet and the legacy of 1989 : politicising the mise-en-scène in Lin Zhaohua's Hamlet (1990/1995), Jan Klata's H. (2004/2006) and Sulayman Al Bassam's The Al-Hamlet Summit (2002/2004)
Author: Walkling, Saffron Josephine
ISNI:       0000 0004 9358 5094
Awarding Body: University of York
Current Institution: University of York
Date of Award: 2020
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In 1962, at the height of the Cold War, Polish academic Jan Kott argued that Shakespeare was “our contemporary”. In this thesis, I ask to what extent do three avant-garde directors of Shakespeare’s play, from late communist, post-communist, or post “Rushdie Affair” settings, appropriate Hamlet to speak to a seismic moment in history: 1989? I argue that Lin Zhaohua, addressing the immediate aftermath of the Tiananmen Square incident, Jan Klata, addressing the economic demise of the Gdańsk shipyard after the Solidarity victory, and Sulayman Al Bassam, addressing Western interventionism in the Middle East and the rise of Islamism, utilise their politicised mise-en-scène to deconstruct these world affairs for local and global audiences, engaging with local intertexts as part of each region’s distinct Hamlet traditions. Primarily using methodologies from performance anthropology and New Historicism, but also drawing on Presentism, Cultural Materialism, feminism, and post-colonialism, I explore how these productions use the Hamlet palimpsest to analyse their “out of joint” world. These productions have also been utilised by intercultural and global Shakespeare and performance studies scholars to read these changes in more nuanced ways as, in a Brechtian sense, a familiar text is defamiliarized through an experimental theatrical lens, and, for international spectators, through a new cultural lens. The thesis contains a coda on Ophelia as a significant foil to Hamlet as the hero, or un-hero, of the times. In dissident or counter-cultural experimental theatre, both before and after 1989, she becomes representative of the body politic. This is increasingly the case after Heiner Müller’s Hamletmachine, however, which bridges post-war Theatre of Allusion and post-modernism. In this thesis, I bring together two productions from geographically distant but ideologically congruent settings, China and Poland, and view them alongside a third setting, the Arab world, as the Western gaze has turned from the Cold War to the “War on Terror”. Hamlet had also been used as a key dissident play in European communist societies, but it lost some of its currency as a political play after many of these regimes collapsed, and with it the capitalist West/Communist East binary. However, in the choice of these three directors to appropriate Hamlet specifically, they challenge any simple triumphalism in seeing 1989 as a marker of wholly positive change in the world order, and their appropriations suggest that, even with the emergence of new societies and new economies, “something is rotten in the State of Denmark” still. I argue that, because of its place in constructions of modernity, both in the East and in the West, Hamlet is uniquely placed to act as a “mirror up to nature” to societies in flux in times of global geo-political change.
Supervisor: Broughton, T. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available