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My contribution to this volume on Shakespeare as a ‘cultural catalyst’ will take this term in the broad sense of an agent speeding up a reaction, without implying that the agent remains unchanged in the process, and will consider one type of ‘cultural reaction’, that of writers of a minority (or ‘minorized’) language that seek to restore its social use and literary prestige. The language I will refer to is Catalan and the specific ‘reaction’ is the revivalist movement known as la Renaixença (‘rebirth’ or ‘renascence’), initiated in the 1830s in the Spanish regions of Catalonia and Valencia, and later in the Balearic Islands and in the French region of Roussillon.
After exploring whether Shakespeare was a catalyst in, and in what ways Shakespeare's works contributed to, the revitalization of Catalan-speaking cultures in Spain in the nineteenth century, I will show that, contrary to the preconceived idea that translations and adaptations of Shakespeare infuse social and literary prestige in the minorized culture, most of the early Shakespeares in Catalan constitute marginal forms of literary and theatrical use that bespeak other kinds of contributions to the recovery of cultural identity or simply disregard such an aim.
On 23 October 1970, Televisión Española broadcast what had been publicized as one of its important televised theatre productions: Hamlet, directed by Claudio Guerin, and starring Emilio Gutiérrez Caba. Spanish spectators were still living under General Franco's right-wing authoritarian regime, which since the end of the three-year civil war in 1939 had infused the country's cultural life with its fascist-inspired National Catholicism and its repression of dissidence. In such a historical context, a production of Hamlet – a play with an ‘obvious applicability to political practice in dictatorships’ – is bound to raise questions about its relationship with the political tensions of the time: was it appropriated by the dominant ideology (as when in Soviet-type regimes Hamlet was presented as a ‘fighter for social justice, almost a forerunner of socialism’)? did it remain apolitical (also a sort of submission to the authorities’ imperatives), or did it show the prince as a symbol of the intellectual's endurance or political resistance against a totalitarian state (as also common in the Soviet bloc)? How political this 1970 televised Hamlet was has not yet been explored in full. In this essay, I will seek to redress this situation by studying external and internal evidence for its political uses and effects. Comparing them with how political meanings are generated in other Hamlet productions, I will argue that, though not a heavily politicized version, Guerin's Hamlet did have a politically critical charge moulded in its artistic features and responding to its historical circumstances.
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