Shakespeare and the Coconuts: On post-apartheid South African culture
(Wits University Press, 2012)
One of the most prominent themes in Shakespeare’s plays is unity. Union, reunion, reconciliation, compromise, synthesis: these are made manifest at the level of plot and characterisation, and emphasised in speech after eloquent speech. Yet “Shakespeare” is a word – a symbol, an historical figure, a body of work – that has, if anything, a deeply divisive effect. Mention of Shakespeare tends to invite a love-him-or-hate-him response, forms of Bardolatry or Bardophobia that are typically reductive.
You’ve heard them before. Shakespeare is a universal genius. OR Shakespeare represents colonial oppression. OR Shakespeare’s words are the acme of poetic expression. OR Shakespeare stands for linguistic imperialism and the homogeneity of “Englishness”. The fact is, however, that Shakespeare is and does all of these things, often simultaneously; the sooner we (thespians and theatre-goers, film makers and consumers, teachers, students, writers, readers, critics – the whole lot of us) can get our heads round this paradox, the better.