Re-writing Shakespeare in the Twentieth Century: Edward Bond’s Lear, Arnold Wesker’s The Merchant and Howard Barker’s Gertrude-The Cry in Socio-Historical Context
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This study examines re-writings of Shakespeare in British drama, Edward Bond’s Lear (1971), Arnold Wesker’s The Merchant (1976) and Howard Barker’s Gertrude-The Cry (2002) in relation to the socio-political, historical and cultural backgrounds of the periods in which they were generated. These works are considered both as commentary to the events of their historical background, and as plays that question Shakespeare’s literary and cultural status. Thus, it is asserted that re-writing has a significant function in terms of creating alternative ideas to the ways in which critical issues are discussed in the canonical texts and their political and ideological foundations. In the Introduction, re-writing’s association with adaptation theory and intertextuality as a postmodern practice is considered. Additionally, the development of Shakespearean re-writing, its reception, and its functions are discussed. Within the scope of these ideas, it is concluded that Shakespeare’s works are questioned, and their ideological aspects are criticised through reworkings. In the first chapter, Edward Bond’s Lear is examined as a Marxist-Socialist appropriation written against Shakespeare’s uncritical attitude to issues like class inequality and violence in King Lear (1606). Considering the problems of the 1970s’ Britain such as unequal class structure, student and worker’s riots, inefficiency of leftist politicians, violence triggered by Stalinism and the Vietnam War, it is discussed that Bond’s appropriation is not only a Shakespeare re-writing but also a play that sheds light on the concerns of its period. In the second chapter, Arnold Wesker’s The Merchant is analysed in terms of identity politics as the play criticises Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice (1605) for its antisemitic discourse. Accordingly, Wesker’s re-writing, as a play produced in the post-Holocaust context, is correlated with some events in its historical background such as Arab-Israeli conflict, Six Day War and Yom Kippur War. In the third chapter, Howard Barker’s Gertrude-The Cry is discussed as a response to the representation of the woman figure in Shakespeare’s Hamlet (1600) in terms of sexual and gender politics. Considering the issues of the play such as individual will and sexual freedom in relation to the regulations of New Labour as the ruling party in Britain in the 2000s, Barker’s work is also analysed as a criticism of its historical context. In the Conclusion, it is revealed that re-writings of Shakespeare in British Drama reflect theoretical, cultural, socio-political and ideological aspects of the periods in which they are created, and they also adopt a critical attitude to Shakespeare’s works. In the light of the plays examined thematically and technically in this study, it is discussed that, Shakespeare’s works evolve in a way that reflects the significant events and concerns of subsequent ages.