Producing Shakespeare in Post-apartheid South Africa

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This paper will examine the role of the school in the construction and dissemination of “Shakespeare” in post-apartheid South Africa. In the context of the history of English in the region, and of Shakespeare’s role in entrenching a particular kind of literacy, the paper aims ultimately to explore some of the implications for the industry of English Literature in post-apartheid South Africa.
Shakespeare still has enormous cultural currency in South Africa as elsewhere; English has always been a language of power in the region, a situation whose continuance is unaffected by the recognition of 11 official languages. David Johnson and Martin Orkin have objected to the ways in which Shakespeare has been used to entrench a racist system in colonial and then apartheid South Africa (Johnson 1998; 1996; 1993; Orkin 1991a; 1991b; 1987). On the other hand, Shakespeare has been requested, enjoyed, and utilised by black writers and readers (Wright 1990/1). My own work has sought to combine the politicisation of literary value insisted upon by the first position, with the reality of the second. I suggest that Shakespeare does have a South African history, which is both literary and political (Distiller 2005). In this context, then, what can Shakespeare be to the majority of post-apartheid South Africans? The majority of those who will encounter these texts will do so at school. What kind of Shakespeare will learners encounter, and what are the implications for post-apartheid cultural identities?
In order to answer these questions, this paper will also ask: How are learners taught to read Shakespeare, and what are the implications for how young South Africans read (in) English? What of recent Anglo-American bibliographic work which destabilises the early modern text? To date, only one article in South Africa has taken cognisance of the implications of this work. It points out that Shakespeare texts are produced in South Africa exclusively for...

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