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The Business of Culture – Whose Enterprise?

The Business of Culture – Whose Enterprise? Eminescu, Cervantes and Shakespeare Ink…orporated

Each 15 January and 15 June I think of why Eminescu is not more visibly and publicly appreciated by we Romanians, and, therefore, better known internationally? If you think this is not a well-constructed question, please let me tell you that it is. I will do so in the next paragraphs. And the comparisons with Shakespeare come naturally to my mind, against my better judgement, and the many examples I have myself to answer my above question.

So, let me start with a simplistic example that I use in class to explain to my students why Romanian culture is a niche culture for a not so small number of people around the world who fell in love with our country. The country is easy to see, experience, enjoy and come back to. Culture is another issue – you need to be somehow educated and have access to it. Like in business - a successful business needs a good concept, a vision and, more importantly, constant investment and hard and continuous work, discipline and perseverance. 

A question of investment 

Stanley Wells, the well-known scholar, writer, professor and editor of the Bard’s works, presented an honest and informative image of the process through which Shakespeare became a truly global writer. Acknowledging the importance of the use of English as an international language and the changes in the world’s digestion patterns for “acceptable cultural icons”, Wells explains the branding of Shakespeare.

In 2006, there was the anniversary year of two outstanding and admirable cultural icons of two world cultures – Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra and William Shakespeare – marking the 400th commemoration of their deaths in April 1616. The echoes of the various ways in which the ceremonies and activities commemorating the two great men and the ways those echoes reached us, the common people inhabiting the global village, were, as expected, very diverse. Why is that? The answers are not easy to give. There are many similarities between the two writers. Both Cervantes and Shakespeare are the emblems of their strictly national, Spanish and British, cultures and also of the larger Anglo-Saxon and Latin American and European cultures. Book lovers and those in the book industry know that 23 April, the day of Cervantes’ and Shakespeare’s death, was chosen in 1995 by UNESCO to mark the World Book and Copyright Day. [1] Because in 1616 Spain and England were using different ways to mark the flow of time, Catholic Spain with the Gregorian calendar and Protestant England with the Julian one, the actual dates for the death of Cervantes and Shakespeare were separated by 10 days, but ended up appearing to fall on the same day – 23 April. [2] Another similarity between the two is the fact that they seem highly popular and the works of both writers have been translated into more than 100 languages. Both are acknowledged as virtuoso artists who have contributed to the enrichment of their own national languages and cultures and greatly influenced the entire world after them. And yet, even if the two cultural giants seem to be so similar in terms of impact, there was an important difference in the way they have been commemorated by their countries and how the general (international) public relates to them. While most of the world was aware of Shakespeare’s commemoration through the Shakespeare Lives [3] programme which aimed to reach half a billion people worldwide, very few people were aware of Cervantes’ anniversary. Andres Trapiello, the Spanish novelist and poet, underlines that the difference in the commemorations between the two may be caused by the differences between the authors themselves and their popularity to the public. But he also points out, and that is relevant for our conversation, that the Spanish state could have done more to promote the Cervantes event. Is popularity not achieved through promotion and marketing? And who should invest in a cultural brand such as Shakespeare, Cervantes or, in our parts of the world, Eminescu? 

Ways and means

In a world of organizations and institutions the answers come easy and obviously, even if there is still enough place for individual contributions as well, and those answers point towards the dedicated cultural institutions such as the British Council, the Cervantes Institute or the Romanian Cultural Institute, which are mainly government funded. In other words, we are looking at cultural policies and strategies of various levels and ranges. However, we are not yet at the moment of crowdfunding such cultural brands, though one can discern a rapid development towards that direction.

It is an interesting exercise to look at the role of the cultural policies formulated at the highest levels in the transformation of Shakespeare into a world cultural icon. Stanley Wells, the well-known scholar, writer, professor and editor of the Bard’s works, presented an honest and informative image of the process through which Shakespeare became a truly global writer. Acknowledging the importance of the use of English as an international language and the changes in the world’s digestion patterns for “acceptable cultural icons”, Wells explains that what we may call today the branding of Shakespeare [4]: “[…] was in part the result of a deliberate campaign. As Britain tried to pull itself together at the end of the Second World War in 1945, stressing cultural rather than militaristic values, an impetus to international appreciation and, indeed, appropriation of Shakespeare came from a sense that enjoyment and discussion of his works formed a meeting ground which transcended national boundaries.”

Wells writes that an important event took place in 1947 when the British Council, whose responsibility was, in part, to serve as a force for the propagation of the British culture, organized a small international conference on Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of the Bard. In 1951, that conference led to the setting up of the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford as a centre for postgraduate study of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, and of a biennial international conference. Internationalism was a keynote, too, of the celebrations in 1964 of the four hundredth anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth

Reaping the rewards 

One of the most important decisions, in my opinion, was to let the world appropriate Shakespeare in all the ways the world was prepared and was able to. From very intellectual and highly sophisticated research into the life and work of the bard into the latest fads of popular culture – everything goes and is accepted even if not always applauded.

And so things started to develop to what we have today: the works of Shakespeare translated into more than 100 languages, his plays turned into more than 1,000 film scripts, one of the most successful musicals of all times, West Side Story [6], was based on Romeo and Juliet, many successful actors and actresses starred in film adaptations of Shakespeare's works from Laurence Olivier's version of Hamlet, to Liz Taylor and Richard Burton’s 1967 Taming of the Shrew (directed by Franco Zeffirelli), to the 2005 version made by BBC with Shirley Henderson and Rufus Sewell, to Kenneth Branagh's version of the full text Hamlet or to Paapa Essiedu’s graffiti prince [5], and many others, including the Romanian world famous productions of Liviu Ciulei, Alexandru Darie, Radu Afrim, Cătălina Buzoianu, Silviu Purcărete, Andrei Șerban or Emil Boroghină – all this contributed and continues to strengthen the Shakespeare brand.

And all this has been the result of a deliberate strategic political decision at the highest level to build, in time, a new image for Britain based not on its military values, but mainly on its cultural ones, values that can rally the interests of a worldwide audience. And one of the most important decisions, in my opinion, was to let the world appropriate Shakespeare in all the ways the world was prepared and was able to. From very intellectual and highly sophisticated research into the life and work of the bard into the latest fads of popular culture – everything goes and is accepted even if not always applauded.

This is part of a larger pattern of treating cultural icons and symbols in the Anglo-Saxon world. And it is something that does not come easily to other cultures. Cervantes is an example and, closer to our hearts, Eminescu. Shakespeare has been turned into a cultural asset of the whole world not because he wrote in contemporary English. Shakespeare wrote in an English that is relatively difficult to read even by native speakers of today, particularly if they lack the necessary educational background. But he is being used creatively, continuously, sometimes even irreverently, but always with love, humour and pride for the genius of the Bard from Stratford upon Avon by theatre and film directors, editors of books either classic, academic, or popularizing for readers – adult, teenagers and children – for classic electronic games and online games; for crosswords, cryptograms, cheaper or more expensive souvenirs, rap music, business training programmes, etc., etc. 

Sacred and profane 

It takes the ease to naturally recite or sing Eminescu in every and all situation – something we no longer do, either from a fear of sounding dated or simply because of ignorance. The general way we treat our icons is by dusting them on the relevant days, with solemn and old-fashioned gestures, no smiles and joy on our faces or in our hearts, and only occasionally do we find wonderfully meaningful gestures.

There are ways to contradict the points I have raised, and there are many who are inclined to do so, including my own students and colleagues, and not necessarily out of the enjoyment of a good debate, but out of a sincere belief that culture is reserved exclusively or principally for ceremonial moments: Romanian culture has a different specificity; British cultural policies and their budgets are not comparable to the Romanian ones; the Romanian audience has a different profile; Eminescu is a poet, while Shakespeare is also a playwright; and the list can go on and on. I personally think that things are much simpler in their apparent complexity: it takes a great love for Eminescu, a natural and familiar commitment to our own cultural values through everyday gestures in everyday settings that can transfer and become ripples to be picked up and carried on by people coming from various social and cultural areas. And mainly it takes an understanding and an acceptance of other forms of expressing feelings and appreciation than the ones we are familiar with and comfortable in. It takes the ease to naturally recite or sing Eminescu in every and all situation – something we no longer do, either from a fear of sounding dated or simply because of ignorance.

In the beginning of January 2017, I came across a video that has gone viral on Facebook and showed a funny sketch around the point of how to interpret the famous line from Hamlet’s soliloquy “To be, or not to be, that is the question”. It showed a number of celebrities from Tim Minchin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dame Harriet Walter, David Tennant, Rory Kinnear, Sir Ian McKellen, Dame Judi Dench and Paapa Essiedu, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s current Hamlet, all of them giving their own, very amusing versions on how the line should be uttered. To everybody’s surprise, including the actors’, Prince Charles himself went on stage and joined the actors with his own version. The video clip was from the April 23, 2016 celebrations of the Bard in Stratford. Most of the media agreed it was an appropriate “finale to a day of celebrations in Stratford that mixed solemnity, pomp, quite a bit of low farce – and royalty. William Shakespeare probably would have approved.” [7] And it reminds us that, indeed, “All the world's a stage /And all the men and women merely players.” 

Lessons learned 

So, what do we do to brand our Romanian cultural symbols? I intend to explore the answers to this question in a future essay, not without saying here that the general way we treat our icons is by dusting them on the relevant days, with solemn and old-fashioned gestures, no smiles and joy on our faces or in our hearts, and only occasionally do we find wonderfully meaningful gestures like that of a Romanian entrepreneur’s idea of painting Eminescu’s face on his 240.000 Euro truck that is doing international shipping across Europe [9].

What else do we do? We started to talk more about our own culture in spite of and against the “official” discouraging trends. I was pleasantly surprised to see that in the last 2 or 3 years my Master program students chose a subject that has been on my list of proposed project topics for the last 15 years and has never been chosen before: “Marketing cultural symbols – Romanian cultural icons and the best communication strategies to sell them internationally”. And some of them chose Eminescu. At the 2016 international conference, The Future of Europe, one of our key-note speakers, Adrian G. Săhlean, Co-founder and President of Global Arts Inc., captured the audience’s attention with an address on Shakespeare, Cervantes, Eminescu - from cultural to universal icons. A literary translator's perspective [10]. He attracted a large audience at the presentation of his book Migălosul cronofag. Traducând Eminescu (“The painstaking chronophage. Translating Eminescu”) which received the 2015 Book of the Year award of the Romanian Writers Union [11]. It would be utterly unfair to dismiss Săhlean’s seminal work in one or two paragraphs. His book about the painstaking art and craft of translating poetry reads like a bestseller. Which it actually is. And so, I invite our readers to the next issue of The Market for Ideas to continue our conversation mainly around Săhlean’s endeavours and contributions to the “impossible” task of translating Eminescu.

 

References

[1] James Badcock, Is it fair for Shakespeare to overshadow Cervantes?, April 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-36055236

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Book_Day

[3] http://www.shakespearelives.org/

[4] Stanley Wells, Shakespeare for All Time, Macmillan, UK, 2002, pp. 369 – 370

[5] Michael Billington, Hamlet review – Paapa Essiedu is a graffiti prince in RSC's bright tragedy, https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2016/mar/23/hamlet-review-paapa-essiedu-rsc-tragedy

[6] http://en.westsidestory.de/show/

[7] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/04/23/prince-charles-plays-hamlet-in-brilliant-bbc-sketch/

[8] William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act-II, Scene-VII, http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/asu_2_7.html

[9] http://www.obiectiv.net/gheorghe-vlase-nu-stim-cine-suntem-nu-stim-de-unde-venim-si-cu-atat-mai-putin-nu-stim-unde-mergem-2961.html/

[10] http://www.rei.cercetare.ase.ro/FoE_Conference/program.html

[11] http://www.filialatradlit-buc-usr.ro/19-10-2015-eminescu-reloaded-adrian-george-sahlean-un-luceafar-al-traducerii-de-poezie/

 
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Amfiteatru Economic

OEconomica No. 1, 2016