Shakespeare, Decolonisation, and the Cold War

Taylor, James Lee (2018). Shakespeare, Decolonisation, and the Cold War. PhD thesis The Open University.



This study considers the role that touring Shakespeare productions played in securing British interests during the Cold War and decolonisation. Focusing on a selection of British Council supported tours during the period the relationship between Shakespeare in Britain and Shakespeare abroad is examined. The evolution of touring Shakespeare’s use in cultural diplomacy is located within the broader history of Britain’s imperial decline and Cold War entanglements. The thesis draws upon the National Archive’s Records of the British Council; the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s collections; and the British Library’s Newspaper, and Manuscript collections. A wide-range of performance, administrative, and anecdotal accounts are brought to light in order to reveal the political and cultural tensions characterising each tour. The shift to using Shakespeare in post-war cultural diplomacy is determined through an examination of tours supporting British colonial interests in Egypt between 1939 and 1946, a formative era of anti-colonial agitation and emerging Cold War dynamics. The late 1940s saw touring Shakespeare assist in the re-colonisation of Australia, with cultural-diplomatic initiatives dedicated to strengthening Britain’s imperial and Cold War objectives. As the military stalemate of the 1950s witnessed the compensatory rise of culture as a political resource, Shakespeare tours countered Soviet influence in Austria, Yugoslavia, and Poland. The 1960s saw Shakespeare used in support of British economic interests in West Africa in general, and UK publishing interests in Nigeria in particular. The thesis concludes that Shakespeare productions were dispatched to Cold War and colonial destinations with the purpose of supporting Britain’s commercial and political interests; that Shakespeare proved to be an effective and protean cultural weapon in service to the British nation; and that contradictory results ensued, including resistance from reluctant hosts and disagreements within Britain’s metropolitan Shakespeare culture itself over Shakespeare’s global role.

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