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Shakespeare Beyond the Trenches. The German Myth of "unser Shakespeare" in Transnational Perspective

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLocal and Global Myths in Shakespearean Performance
EditorsAneta Mancewicz, Alexa Huang
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2018

King's Authors


This chapter considers the legacy of the myth of ‘unser Shakespeare’ (‘our Shakespeare’), and explores the extent to which the notion of Shakespeare as the German national poet retains any currency in the 20th and 21st centuries. In doing so, it questions the extent to which the idea of a nationally specific Shakespeare is both challenged and sustained by his wider transnational circulation, and argues that new translation and performance practices continue to allow the myth of ‘unser Shakespeare’ to circulate across borders. The chapter opens by introducing the wider history of the appropriation of Shakespeare in Germany by exploring the competing claims over Shakespeare by the British and the Germans around World War One, when both nations deployed him as a tool of cultural warfare. Against this backdrop, it then identifies some of the mechanisms that have continued to support his ‘Germanness’ in the later 20th Century, arguing in particular that the longevity of the myth of ‘unser Shakespeare’ should be seen as the result of a novel ‘double translation’ of Shakespeare – both in terms of language, and in terms of performance tradition. Here attention is focused specifically on the figure of Brecht, and German productions within the Globe to Globe Festival of 2012. The chapter concludes by assessing the extent to which the myth of ‘unser Shakespeare’ continues to play a role in contemporary theatrical practice in Germany. Exploring the work of the director Thomas Ostermeier, it argues that the directorial persona of Ostermeier has become conflated with the myth of a radicalized German Shakespeare, allowing for and supporting the wider dissemination of this myth outside of Germany in the contemporary period. Ultimately, the chapter demonstrates the tenacity of national myths of Shakespeare, even as he ‘goes global’.

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