Wow I haven’t written in a while now. It’s been a hectic few weeks with the end to this half of the semester, but I wanted to get a post in before Spring Break just to keep things ticking over.
Having just finished my short essay, I think I’m now becoming more certain than ever about the transnational nature of art. And within the context of that, I think there is scope for us to redefine what we consider a national culture.
On Romeo and Juliet
William Shakespeare, right. A national icon, quintessentially British. And Romeo and Juliet. One of his most famous plays, possibly the world’s most famous love story. Also quintessentially British. So what would you say if I told you that an Italian author called Luigi da Porto wrote a story called Romeo e Giulietta about fifty years before Shakespeare – and the storylines are pretty much the same. Shakespeare adds some embellishments, fleshes out a few of the characters (like Mercutio and Tybalt), but overall, it’s the same piece.
Interesting that. Other sources for the play include Masuccio Salernitano’s Mariotto e Ganozza and even the story of Pyramus and Thisbe from Ovid’s metamorphoses. All of a sudden, this quintessentially British play is looking a lot less British and a lot more Italian.
Stories and creativity are not tied down by national boundaries – they are fluid, and can easily move across these boundaries as and when. Of course, a piece of work can have national significance, but it is simply impossible to accredit it or to pin it down within the boundaries of any particular nation.
On National Culture
I think that this point is very important – when dissecting aspects of national culture, the importance of transnational influences immediately becomes very clear. Without the transnational influences that Shakespeare had access to, living in sixteenth century London, his cannon of work may have been very different (and dare I say, a lot more limited). Shakespeare’s works have been translated in to over 100 languages, and are performed worldwide, which means it’s probably fair to say that his work has global significance. It was influenced by transnational exchanges, and it instigates transnational exchanges as well.
In order to keep a national culture moving forward, it is important to encourage engagement with transnational influences, both for the good of the nation, and in some way for the good of the whole world.
With Brexiteers trumpeting the UK’s removal from planet earth, I think that the UK is falling in to a trap – a misunderstanding – that British culture is somewhat autarkical. That what makes Britain great comes from within, and that Britain doesn’t need external influences. People say ‘we are the nation of The Beatles, of Isaac Newton, of Shakespeare. These things all show the power of our amazing nation. We don’t need to be outward facing because we have these things within us.’
What we must always remember is the very reason that these things are within us – because we faced outwards.