Shakespeare and German reunification: the interface of politics and performance

Oliver, Emily Kate (2013). Shakespeare and German reunification: the interface of politics and performance. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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The thesis examines the relationship between politics and Shakespeare performance in eastern Germany before, during, and after reunification in 1990. Distancing itself from the assumption that performance acts as a directly influential political tool, it situates theatre practitioners and institutions within their economic, political, and cultural contexts. By analysing a wide range of case studies from Berlin as well as more peripheral towns and cities, I argue that German Shakespeare performance’s capacity for political intervention, both before and after reunification, was limited by theatre practitioners’ reliance on public funding, their close relationships with governmental authority, and an underlying distrust of the people (Volk). Ultimately, East German theatre practitioners proved useful to the 1989 protest movement precisely because they occupied a unique position at the interface of dissidence and state power. I begin by situating my study within the tradition of reading Hamlet as an allegory for the German struggle between Geist (intellect) and Macht (power). Each following chapter examines Shakespeare productions between 1980 and 2000 from a different perspective. Chapter 2 considers the impact of public funding on theatre practice in the GDR, and theatre’s struggle for economic survival following reunification. Chapter 3 examines theatre’s shifting relationships with political authority by investigating East German censorship practices, theatre practitioners’ involvement with the 1989 protest movement, and attempts to connect Shakespeare performance with politics in reunified Germany. Chapter 4 analyses competing theatre aesthetics in relation to their function, methodology, and intended audience, examining how these translated into theatre practice. The thesis concludes by considering Shakespeare’s role in memorialising East German theatre practice.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of English, Drama and American & Canadian Studies
Funders: Arts and Humanities Research Council
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DD Germany
P Language and Literature > PR English literature


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