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Shakespeare in South Africa: Book-Length Studies and Theses

Shakespeare in South Africa -- page 9

Book-length studies and theses

Book-length Shakespearean scholarship has been sparse. Until the early 70s, as in many ex-colonial academies, undue emphasis on research and publication seems to have been regarded as less than genteel. Most of the scholarship and criticism is to be found in South African literary periodicals. Nevertheless, there have been several reasonably important studies, among them A.C. Partridge's examination of the "two styles" in Henry VIII [1949] and his later book Orthography in Shakespeare and Elizabethan Drama (1964) - a work still widely used today; and DRC Marsh';s study of the last plays, The Recurring Miracle (1962), which cheekily thanks the Minister of Justice for providing the opportunity in which to write it (Marsh was detained in Pietermaritzburg prison during the "state of Emergency" which followed the Sharpeville massacre in 1960 - see Moberly 2002). He emigrated to Australia shortly afterwards. A large two-volume unpublished study of King Lear by F.G. Butler, completed in the early 80s, is housed in the National English Literary Museum.

Among more recent works, though ten years apart, have been Martin Orkin's Shakespeare Against Apartheid (1986), and David Johnson's Shakespeare and South Africa (1996). Orkin's is an effort to demonstrate complicity between South African teachers of Shakespeare and the state ideology that sponsored apartheid. Johnson's can be described as an exercise in symptomatic literary marxism, the thrust of which is evident in the title of the thesis on which it is based: "A study of the influence exerted by the British Shakespeare industry on the educational and critical reproduction of Shakespeare in South Africa." These are both highly idiosyncratic works of political consciousness-raising. Deliberately, neither pays attention to Shakespeare in performance. Johnson's is a rich if erratic resource for South African educational history. Both authors have since left South Africa.

There are some recent studies. Anthony Davies has contributed significantly to Shakespearean film studies with two books, Filming Shakespeare's Plays (1988) and Shakespeare and the Moving Image (1994), which he edited with Stanley Wells. He too now lives abroad. A valuable account of recent Shakespeare production has been written by Rohan Quince. Based on his doctoral dissertation, Shakespeare in South Africa: Stage Productions During the Apartheid Era was published in New York by Peter Lang in 2000. From the University of Cape Town, David Schalkwyk published a substantial study Speech and Performance in Shakespeare's Sonnets and Plays in 2002, while Natasha Distiller contributed a volume, South Africa, Shakespeare, and Postcolonial Culture, in 2005.

Theses and dissertations

Shakespeare has been a moderately popular subject for graduate research, though most of the results remain immured for all eternity in library stacks (see Checklist). Some 6 graduate research projects are currently in progress. The variety of topics and approaches evident in the listing over time follows the trends of international Shakespeare scholarship closely, if sometimes belatedly. The Universities most prolific in Shakespearean research have been the University of Natal, Durban, the University of the Witwatersrand, and the University of Cape Town. With the exception of Plaatje, there has been little attention paid to indigenous South African reflections on Shakespeare.

This study includes a checklist of South African theses and dissertations on Shakespeare

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