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Chapter 11 - Germanizing Shakespeare during the First World War

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 August 2023

Amy Lidster
Affiliation:
University of Oxford
Sonia Massai
Affiliation:
King's College London
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Summary

The outbreak of the First World War presented the German Kaiserreich’s cultural elite with a major dilemma. Should they jettison the output of poets and playwrights, artists and musicians from the newly hostile Entente countries from programmes for public consumption? Or should they claim them as part of the common cultural stock of humanity, and continue to enjoy them as before? These debates rose to an especially acute pitch over the works of Shakespeare, which by 1914 had become a much-loved staple of the Wilhelmine dramatic canon. Rather than abandoning Shakespeare, German elites began an intensive campaign to reframe Germany as his ‘true’ home, rooted in his apparent closeness to the essence of the ‘German spirit’ – with correlative contempt for his supposedly inadequate reception in the Anglosphere. Shakespearean texts and cultural institutions were also co-opted systematically into the Kaiserreich’s war effort: to boost the morale and lionize the calibre of the German soldiery, to mark milestone events in the war’s trajectory, and as part of German diplomatic offensives abroad, especially in neutral countries. Overall, this essay casts wartime Shakespeare in a new and unusual light, illustrating the potential for state military propaganda to engage in projects of cultural reclamation.

Type
Chapter
Information
Shakespeare at War
A Material History
, pp. 111 - 120
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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