Saturday, April 13, 2024
Home Culture When Shakespeare makes war and not love: an exhibition in London shows the influence of the playwright’s works in the war and military field | Culture

When Shakespeare makes war and not love: an exhibition in London shows the influence of the playwright’s works in the war and military field | Culture

by News Room
0 comment

It is already curious that someone who has expressed love like no one else has also spoken about war like no one else. Of course, it is less surprising if that someone is William Shakespeare. It’s hard to say which is the Bard’s most beautiful line about love. Probably some of Romeo and Juliet (“give me my Romeo, and when I die/ take him and divide him into little stars:/ the face of the sky will become so beautiful/ that everyone will fall in love with the night/ and will no longer worship the strident sun”), although Some of us prefer the very captivating of the mature love of Cleopatra and Mark Antony: “Eternity was on our lips and our eyes, happiness on our foreheads, and there was nothing in us, no matter how poor, that the gods did not envy.” It is also difficult to choose one of his great phrases about war, from the famous ones of Henry V in the inflamed harangue to his small army at Azincourt, on Saint Crispin’s Day, “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers”, “we few, happy few, blood brothers”, to the no less iconic of Mark Antony himself in Julius Caesar: “Cry ¡havoc! and let splip the dogs of war“, “screams ‘devastation!’ and unleash the dogs of war.”

I was thinking about that on Wednesday in London as I headed not to the Globe theater but to the National Army Museum (NAM), the military museum in Chelsea where the exhibition can be visited (until September 1) Shakespeare and War, Shakespeare y la guerra. In the other large military museum of the city, the Imperial War Museum (IWM) there is, by the way, also an exhibition not to be missed, Spies, lies and deception (until October 14), about espionage and clandestine operations since the First World War. Not everything has to be the Royal Academy, the National Gallery, the Tate, Turner, Liotard or Pesellino.

The NAM, which once again displays the mannequin wearing Lawrence of Arabia’s clothes that has been out for a while (and long live Lawrence), is the only museum I know where you can have tea with a Westland combat helicopter Lynx at your fingertips and immerse yourself in the Victorian wars as if you were in The four feathers, The last charge o Zulu (not to mention the display of Napoleonic memorabilia, which is amazing). The way the world is today, a military museum—with a Challenger 2 tank at the door and a dozen authentic Victoria Crosses in the display cases—would not seem to have much appeal, but to think that is not to know the British, who also try to update the NAM by placing greater emphasis on women, on showing the true (devastating) nature of war and on seeking innovative views, such as that of Shakespeare, which, of course, provides cultural pedigree.

Admission to the exhibition on Shakespeare and war.

The exhibition, in one of the two temporary exhibition rooms on the second floor, is small but very suggestive. Devoted to exploring some of the ways in which Shakespeare “has marked what we think about soldiers and the army, and how we imagine war and its consequences today”, the exhibition is curated by two specialists, Amy Lidster, from the University of Oxford , author of Wartime Shakespeare (Cambridge University Press, 2023), and Sonia Massai of King’s College London, Lidster editor of the collective volume Shakespeare at war (same publisher and same year). It is noted from the outset that Shakespeare was skilled in military matters to the point that it is not ruled out that he could have been a soldier. The famous military historian and former commando Peter Young even dedicated a book to the matter.: Will Shakespeare, top military expert (1968). Shakespeare is older than the British Army itself, founded in 1660—Willy (1564-1616) is older than Tommy, so to speak. In 26 of Shakespeare’s 38 plays, war appears in the foreground or as a reference. The writer described campaigns and battles, from the Trojan War to the War of the Two Roses (six works), passing through the civil wars of Ancient Rome and the Hundred Years War. His characters include real and fictional warriors and soldiers such as Achilles, Coriolanus, Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, Titus Andronicus, Macbeth, Hotspur, Henry V, Joan of Arc, Richard III, Hamlet (father) and Othello; He made both leaders and simple foot soldiers like the standard bearer Pistol and his hard-working comrades speak on stage.

Since their premiere, Shakespeare’s works, the exhibition emphasizes, have taken on even greater meaning when Britain has gone to war, serving as inspiration, example and comfort to soldiers and civilians. The Bard’s words have been used to “unite the nation in times of crisis and to reflect on the human cost of conflict”; also to “criticize war and to consider the most complex aspects of military experience.”

Kenneth Branagh, as Lieutenant Colonel Tim Collins in Iraq, in a BBC production.BBC

During the English Civil War (1642-1651), the exhibition notes, Shakespeare was associated with the monarchy, in part because King Charles I was a big fan (of Shakespeare and the monarchy), and while awaiting his trial and his execution he read it passionately in his copy of the complete works, which is preserved with the monarch’s notes. Shakespeare’s consecration as a national icon linked to the monarchy reached one of its climaxes with the Seven Years’ War. The famous actor David Garrick created a patriotic prologue to his performance of The Tempest. During the American War of Independence, Shakespeare was used by both sides: the Americans, the works about republican Rome to justify the rebellion for freedom, and the British, the works about English kings to criticize disloyalty towards the crown. Come on, Mel Gibson’s Benjamin Martin, from The patriot, he could recite a few lines from Brutus while using the tomahawk and Colonel Tavington from Jason Isaacs others from Richard II while slaughtering civilians with his dragon sword. The exhibition documents how British officers set up a Enrique IV in Philadelphia to entertain themselves, before the continentals gave them a run for their money in Saratoga.

The Napoleonic Wars saw abundant use of Shakespeare. The exhibition features an illustration celebrating Nelson’s victory at the Battle of the Nile, showing King George III as the magician Prospero of The Tempest, protecting Albion from the French fleet commanded by the Corsican Caliban. A poster from the time presents a proclamation of “Shakespeare’s ghost” in which, with extracts from Henry V y King Johnresistance is called against Napoleon by conjuring “our immortal bard” and his “dauntless spirit of resolution”. Another poster shows Bonaparte in Calais hesitating “to go, or not to go” about the invasion of the island.

Orson Welles as Falstaff in ‘Chimes at Midnight’.

Shakespeare was widely used in the Victorian era to exalt the pride of the nation during its imperial expansion, placing emphasis on the role of its troops (Kipling was very Shakespearean). An engraving shows British soldiers foraging and carrying branches for camp fires in the campaign against the Xhosa as Macduff’s army marches from Birnam to Dunsinane in Macbeth. The Bard also accompanied military explorations, such as those of John Franklin, whose ships included Shakespeare’s works. The exhibition shows a poster of an unusual performance by the “Royal Arctic Theatre” of The Tamed of the Shrew on November 23, 1853 aboard the Resolute, one of the ships sent in search of Franklin’s expedition. Of course, a curious choice for that comedy given the context.

In the First World War, Lord Kitchener, a great reader of Shakespeare, dressed rhetorically as Henry V for his famous recruiting call, “your country needs you”, while another poster used a phrase from Macbeth: “Do not wait for the order to march, go immediately.” Among the entertainments for the wounded soldiers were productions of the Bard’s plays: a film of The dream of a nigth of summer en Regents Park.

A performance by the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon. getty

During the Second World War, beyond its obvious echo in Churchill’s speeches, Shakespeare became a symbol of the resistance of culture and values ​​threatened by the Nazis. “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more”, “once more to the breach, dear friends, once more”, they recited on the BBC in the middle of the Blitz, like Harry in front of Harfleur. In line with the effort to mobilize society, the Government subsidized the theater for the first time. And as part of the war propaganda you have to see the muscular and patriotic film adaptation of Henry V by Laurence Olivier (1944), “possibly the most iconic wartime performance of Shakespeare.” By the way, there is a rumor that the Nazis infiltrated a spy into the filming to kill Olivier, hated by Goebbels (a subject worthy of the Imperial War Museum exhibition). A curious military extension of the Bard was the frequent performances of his works in British prison camps in Germany, such as the one documented in the exhibition of The merchant of Venice in Stalag 383, with hundreds of spectators, we don’t know if they were captivated but certainly captive. A good distraction while building tunnels and planning escapes.

The exhibition has one of its most interesting sections on recent conflicts and how they have influenced theatrical adaptations of Shakespeare, often less complacent with the military and more critical. The poster of Henry V by Adrian Noble with the Royal Shakespeare Company, from 1984, evokes the Falklands War. You can see videographic scenes from another Henry V 2003 in which the question of the legitimacy of the medieval war against France is applied to the invasion of Iraq and Tony Blair’s lies about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. Or the scenes of a Othello from 2015 in which Moor soldiers of Venice are seen torturing prisoners of war in pure Abu Ghraib style. It is also remembered the Hamlet depicted in kyiv in March 2022 during the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the country’s bloody being or not being.

Image from the exhibition on Shakespeare and the war in London.

Particularly significant is the reference to the famous harangue, inspired by that of Henry Vfrom Lieutenant Colonel Tim Collins on March 19, 2003 to his troops of the First Battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment at the beginning of the invasion of Iraq (“Wipe them out if that is what they choose. But if you are ferocious in battle remember to be magnanimous in victory”, “annihilate them if that is what they choose. But if you are fierce in battle, remember to be magnanimous in victory.”). The surprising eve-of-battle speech by Collins was later recreated by Kenneth Branagh in a curious case of Shakespearean references back and forth.

In the exhibition, to add a drawback, Falstaff is missing, the Shakespearean antihero in which the Bard represented the counterpoint to Henry’s epic and courage. Falstaff, the man of the great speech of healthy cowardice and who proclaims his skeptical catechism about war on the Shrewsbury battlefield before recoiling and escaping on his legs: “What need do I have to go where I am not called? What is honor? A word. Air. An expensive ornament. Who owns it? The one who died on Wednesday.” Some very convenient words to reduce the enthusiasm when you walk through the National Army Museum among the beating of drums, brave hussars and Bengal lancers.

Leave a Comment