Shakespearisation — the process observed in Russian and world literatures, which characterizes, on the one hand, a special public interest in William Shakespeare’s literary heritage (intensively developed in the second half of the 18th century), on the other hand, the strong influence of the playwright’s creative work on the subsequent development of literature, music, visual arts, theater and cinema. There are two terms used in current philology: Shakespearisation and Shakespearianism.
The historical-theoretical approach in philology and the general-research thesaurus approach have helped to throw a new light upon the transient aesthetic phenomena that were impossible to describe because of the lack of the appropriate terms and notions in other systems, and helped not only to characterize the existing literary phenomena, but also to analyze the process of their formation. Shakespearisation belongs among these processes, or, to be more exact, it refers to conceptual process. Conceptual process is the category that gives us an idea about the appearance, formation and development of the literary concepts, intensification of a certain tendency. The denotations are made on a consistent linguistic principle, emphasizing the time of appearance, formation and further development of a certain artistic feature that occurs in a literary paradigm (the dominant system of correlations and attitudes in literary discourse): psychologism, historicism, heroisation, documentalism, etc.
Conceptual processes that reflect individual writers’ influence on literature belong in a special group. Shakespearisation is a notion that occupies a special position among such cases. In Russian literature, this conceptual process appeared somewhat later than in Western Europe. The main tendencies that had featured in German and French literatures were to some extent reflected in I.S. Turgenev’s narrative A Prince Hamlet of the Shigrov District (included in collection The Hunter's Sketches, 1847–1852) and in N.S. Leskov’s story A Lady Macbeth of the Mtsenk District (1865). Due to Shakespearisation, there were created prerequisites necessary for our national culture to assimilate the highest achievements of European literature.
However, it is the notion of Shakespearianism that characterizes the specific character of adoption of Shakespeare’s literary heritage in national belles-lettres most precisely. While the process of Shakespearisation suggests an introduction of Shakespeare’s subjects, characters, plots and motifs into another cultural environment, the notion of Shakespearianism, on the contrary, characterizes the comprehension and appropriation of the basic ideas of his creative work, worldview, vision of history and the present, the past and future.
To sum it up, the adoption of Shakespeare’s literary novelties by Russian literature of the 19th century happened in two principal trends: Shakespearisation and Shakespearianism. For the majority of Russian writers, Shakespearisation manifested itself in following Shakespeare’s patterns, subjects, characters, motifs and plots — briefly speaking, in imitation of the poetic style of the British genius. Pushkin, Dostoyevsky and several other Russian writers, playwrights and poets expressed their interest in Shakespeare in congenial elaboration of the Shakespearian tradition. It was the idea of Shakespearianism that gained special importance to Russian literature in the general process of adoption of Shakespeare’s literary novelties in the world culture of the 18th–19th cc. In Russia Shakespearianism became an original phenomenon, which characterized the adoption of Shakespeare’s literary heritage by another national tradition.
All of these make it possible for us to speak about such a phenomenon of cultural intercourse as “Russian Shakespeare”, which comprises a variety of matters connected with the adoption of Shakespeare’s creative work by Russian culture: the great number of Russian translations of Shakespeare’s works, a specific vision of the playwright’s life and creative work, original interpretations of his literary heritage in literature, music, visual arts, theater and cinema in Russia.
In the 21st century Russian literature continues to employ Shakespearian motifs and characters, which is evident from the range of Shakespearian reminiscences in works presented for the Ivan Bunin Literary Award in 2007. Even nowadays, Shakespeare retains popularity on theatrical stage in Russia. Shakespeare’s plays are staged in theatres with surprising regularity. The former Ambassador of the Great Britain in Russia, Anthony Brenton, as an admirer and researcher of Shakespeare’s literary work, listed numerous facts of Shakespeare’s active presence in Russian culture and talked about Russia as a Shakespearian country (A. Brenton. Shakespeare is Russian // Voprosy Literatury. 2007. # 4.).
Vl. A. Lukov,
N. V. Zakharov
Translation from Russian by Irina Popova