“He was not of an age, but for all time.”

In June 2006, I was scheduled to fly back from a trip to Sicily via Frankfurt am Main. Having seen the airport many times but not the city itself, I decided to spend a few days there. But as I discovered when I went to book a hotel, there was a little problem. Germany was hosting the World Cup that month, and the city was swarming with soccer fans come from all over the globe to watch the nail-biting zero-zero ties on jumbo TVs strategically placed around the city–one even floating on a barge in the middle of the Main.
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Foreign producers of Shakespeare like Groß and Wilms evidently don’t find his work alien to their own experience, and, given the popularity of the plays around the world, the same may be said of theater audiences everywhere. As far as I can tell, the only people intent on questioning the timelessness of Shakespeare’s plays today are literature professors in the English-speaking world. In recent decades it has become increasingly fashionable among Shakespeare scholars to deny that there is anything intrinsically great or universal in his plays. They view Shakespeare as a product of the narrow horizons of his own day, and label him a distinctly English phenomenon. Indeed his greatness is often treated as a cultural construct, something invented or even manufactured in England. His plays are said to be the product of a culture industry, which first imposed his works on England, then on the English-speaking world, and finally on the whole globe, as if he were a skillfully marketed commodity, the Guinness Stout of the Renaissance.

In this view, Shakespeare is the ultimate Dead White European Male. He was canonized by the cultural establishment of England and then used to impose English values around the world (especially throughout the British Empire). In their efforts to cut Shakespeare down to size, and find something contingent, even arbitrary, in his reputation, Shakespeare scholars sometimes speak as if the cultural establishment could have taken any one of his contemporaries–say, Ben Jonson or Thomas Middleton–and through clever packaging and marketing built him into the world’s most famous poet. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you! The only reason the general public pays attention to Shakespeare scholars is for their help in understanding his greatness, and yet some of them are now actively engaged in debunking that greatness as a cultural myth.
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Shakespeare most often crosses the border as a liberator, not a conqueror. Indeed, cultural exchange is generally more like free trade than imperialism.

Playwright of the Globe,” by Paul A. Cantor, Claremont Review of Books, January 8, 2007
hat tip ALD

Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton

If you want to see Shakespeare presented with a focus on the language and not the sets, we give our highest recommendation to Shenandoah Shakespeare at Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton, Virginia. The drive from Washington is beautiful and well worth it.

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