Liza Penn-Thomas writes:
Wednesday 16 March, 1pm – 2pm. Callaghan Lecture Theatre
Michael Bogdanov’s reputation for controversial and groundbreaking theatre made his recent lecture series at Swansea University highly anticipated, with organiser D.J.Britton promising “vivid insights drawn from an illustrious career stretching back over almost half a century”. We had already been afforded opportunity to hear Bogdanov speak in ‘INVISIBLE BULLETS – Shakespeare the Subversive’ and ‘DEUTSCHLAND UEBER ALLES – Simply the Best?' the latter of which looked particularly at Shakespeare’s welcome into the German canon of theatrical performance, as if he were a German himself. Of course, as we all knew after the third and final lecture in the series, Shakespeare was not German at all... but a Welshman.
Entitled ‘GWILYM AP SHAKESPEARE – Shakespeare and the Welsh’ the final event was delivered with Dr Daniel Williams in the chair as host. It was the Welsh presence in the plays of Shakespeare that was to be considered. Though an international figure, Bogdanov is by blood and birth a Welshman. He has also been a major contributor to the cultural life of Wales and specifically the staging of Shakespeare for a Welsh audience. The first fact established was that claims for a Welsh Bard in Stratford could certainly hold true if he were a rugby player, as his paternal grandmother was Welsh. Alys Griffin is often credited, along with his Welsh school master Thomas Jenkins, for passing on to the young William lyrical language and Celtic folklore that found its way into his dramas. The significance of Wales within the creative imagination of Shakespeare is recognised but it is in the interpretation of such representations that opinion becomes divergent.
Bogdanov saw the dramatist’s treatment of the Welsh as a sympathetic reflection of his humanism not as negative stereotyping. He disagreed with the frequently held view that Shakespeare was racist or misogynistic and asserted that Shakespeare was assuredly not Anti-Semitic. Daniel Williams wasn’t wholly convinced and suggested that the Welsh seemed to be used as benevolent characters that stood as worthy examples to England’s belligerent Scottish and Irish neighbours. Wales, as in much English thought, was being assigned a symbolic role of future unity within the isles under an English crown.
It will be interesting to see whether this most English icon who wrote under the patronage of English royalty will receive continued suspicion in Wales and be kept at arm’s length, acknowledged for his great writing but consigned to the role of a curriculum staple and open-air novelty. Or if, as a result of increasing political devolution, we in Wales will be able to embrace the plays of Shakespeare, as the Germans have, for our own artistic and cultural expressions.