The London Olympics, whether a success or wash out, are actually a wonderful chance for many valuable discussions and cultural discoveries. One, for American and world visitors alike, is the coming mega exhibition at the British Museum on Elizabethan London and all its writers, Shakespeare: Staging the World, from July 19th through to November. Another are the cycle of Shakespeare plays being staged at The Globe, in 37 different languages, but then, supported by a Bardic fest on the BBC, this is also World Shakespeare Year: A Cultural Olympiad too then, with Bill going for cultural Gold.
It is a chance for an obvious plug for work here, and the experimental posting of the story of Shakespeare’s Brother, above, on Southwark and William’s unknown younger brother Edmund, also a player, who died in Southwark in the freezing winter of 1607/8. It might be a chance to stop Thames Water mutilating an important and wonderful London district too, as the actor Patrick Stewart has been campaigning on, with its plans for awful new water tunnels, to quench the washed and unwashed in the capital, in the glinting shadow of the Shard. Southwark must be preserved, or protected, but perhaps not in that ‘theme park’ way we do history nowadays. But actually the story of the players, Southwark, The City and the Reformation lies at the very root of World banking and economic discussions too, ever looming over the City of London.
For years we have talked about that “American Dream“, good or bad, dream or nightmare, but it actually came straight out of the Elizabethan City of London, and speaks of a very long ‘special relationship’. In the establishing of the Virginia Trading Company’s Free Standing Lotterie in 1612, taken up by all 13 colonies and formed in the City of London, in the founding of the East India Company too, so much of what we believe and debate today was forged five hundred years ago, in the trading ethic of the City, the battle with Rome and Euro Centrism, and the discovery and colonisation of the ‘New World’. As those writers and players, vagabond or connected, were writing their works and building their theatres, often attacked by the City Corporation, in the hungry “Square mile”. Just as the violent religious debates of the Reformation, subtly redirected in Shakespeare, and the energetic freedoms of separatist Puritans and dissenters, were carried straight to the founding heart of often still Puritan America, or East Coast America, with the actually levelling idea of Lotteries and Capitalism powerfully in toe – levelling until capital became such an unlevel playing field. It may be why there is such interest in Shakespeare and Southwark from American academics nowadays, but in many ways American consciousness has not moved on from those Elizabethan London arguments and energetic opposites, four hundred years ago. Maybe the UK is always returning to them too, especially in its symbiotic or lap dog relationship with the USA.
Perhaps the Olympics then are a chance to discuss what Shakespeare’s real vision and journey was, and if that can be a true guiding light once more, or if it is all just fustian recreation. Peter Ackroyd argues he did not have a meaning or vision, as such, since he was both a writer trying to make it, and please an audience, and all-encompassing in his mirror up to nature, or the world. Yet, if “we all such stuff as dreams are made of”, perhaps the good or bad life dream does revolve around that play Ackroyd does not think was effectively his last work, and we do, The Tempest. Especially what Shakespeare was trying to get at in terms of the creative ‘faith’ of the writer magician, Prospero, in that ‘isle full of noises’ of his mind, and those “brave new worlds that hath such people in it.” Much as Ackroyd may be right about some quality in Shakespeare drawing on “The English Imagination”, that is a world vision, for all humanity, not a London one, and a search for other ‘countries’, or reality and imagination, beyond the clashes of his time. Whatever golds the Olympics bring for Team Britain though, now branded just like the Corporation or ‘Big Apple’ New York City, there is a lot of cultural gold to be had in London this year. Enjoy.
Phoenix Ark Press