His book—or at least, the idea of his book—persists in our attempts to explain why Shakespeare ought to matter in the current moment of technologically-driven consumerism, defunct bookstores and shrinking English departments. Fifty years later, the time is at hand for a reassessment of this audacious, relentlessly provocative book. Does S hakespeare Our Contemporary have endurance beyond its charismatic title?
Is Shakespeare Still Our Contemporary? by John Elsom
His Shakespeare did not send us coded messages. Kott was a student of Sartre, and had translated his plays into Polish. Instead, he relied on the sheer force of the connections he made between Shakespeare and the theatres of Brecht, Beckett, Genet and Ionesco to shift the equation toward vital performance and away from the sentimentalized, commodified Shakespeare of the earlier twentieth century. The Tempest as either an operatic fairy tale or allegory of poetry and theatre-making was exploded, and with authority.
In this way, the existential humanist is also revealed to be an historicist. East Europe under the occupation of Russia. This may seem strange to Western audiences, he declares.
And in one scene, in which Lady Macbeth came down on stage facing the audience with her red hands soaked in blood, the audience was frightened. For the audience, this image of Lady Macbeth with her hands soaked in blood was the image of Stalin. Difference provoking immediacy. Experience in performance.
It is not a static condition. It is to find a new universality.
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This book is an account of a public seminar held in honour of Jan Kott's influential study, Shakespeare Our Contemporary. Attracting international contributors, the seminar focused on the relevance of her study for Shakespearian theatre today. First published in Get A Copy. Paperback , pages.
‘Shakespeare and Modern Culture’
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Multicultural Shakespeare on the Contemporary Stage
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