Since the seventeenth century, Shakespeare's drama has travelled to virtually every corner of the world – first to continental Europe, then Africa, Asia and the Americas. These routes have been remarkably well documented. Indeed, scholarship on Shakespeare in Germany, China, Japan, India and beyond has been instrumental in broadening our understanding of Shakespeare's global reach. Studies of Shakespeare in Japan, for instance, have meticulously documented the fertile cross-pollination between his drama and Japan's long-standing theatre traditions: Bunraku, Kabuki and Noh. In India, scholars have investigated the ways in which Shakespeare was co-opted as a colonial agent by Britain in the nineteenth century, and later renovated as an ‘inciter of nationalism – as if the people of India had said, “We will learn your game of cricket and beat you at it”’. By mapping his transmission nation by nation, however, the critical project of global Shakespeares has more recently threatened to become an obstacle to its own inquiry. What do we mean in the twenty-first century by Japanese, Indian or, in this study's case, Korean Shakespeares? That is to say, what are we constructing – intentionally or unintentionally – and what are we occluding when we examine Shakespeare's dissemination in units of the nation? How has nationhood inflected the study of Shakespeare, and what does Shakespeare bring to our sense of the nation as an empowering yet also inhibitive idea?
The problem of imagining the nation is, of course, a dilemma Shakespeare himself explored in Henry V, a play that registers the political tensions within and surrounding early modern England as it sought to establish its geopolitical relevance in a global context. Among the first plays to be staged at the newly constructed Globe Theatre in London, Shakespeare's last history play is a literary enterprise that reaches back into England's past as a way to reconstruct, celebrate and project its national and imperial ambitions. King Henry's St Crispin's Day speech repeatedly appeals to a collective, English sense of ‘we’ in an attempt to unite the different regions of Britain represented by Captains Fluellen, Gower, Jamy and MacMorris under a single national banner: ‘But we in it shall be remembered, / We few, we happy few, we band of brothers’.