Thursday, 8 October 2015

Shakespeare and Scandinavia

So, a blog post can grow, under the right circumstances, into a fully-fledged conference paper. For my former Lancaster colleague Richard Wilson fastened upon my post on ‘Eirikr Magnússon 100 Years On’ (24 January 2013) to suggest that I might elaborate its claim that Morris’s Icelandic language teacher and fellow-translator had significant effects upon future English Shakespearean studies at his ‘Shakespeare and Scandinavia’ conference at Kingston University this weekend. So I’ve done what I can in that direction, starting from the fact that Magnússon translated The Tempest into Icelandic, the first edition-translation of any Shakespeare play in that language, and following through to his Cambridge pupils Israel Gollancz (who published a study called Hamlet in Iceland) and Bertha Phillpotts, and then through the latter onto the Leavises on Hamlet. I thus float the hopefully suggestive idea that there was something like a ‘Magnússonian school of English Shakespeare studies’.

No doubt Morris would have thoroughly approved the title of Richard’s Kingston event, but I’m wondering whether we can’t enlist Morris himself, or at least News from Nowhere, into the putative Magnússonian Shakespeare school. For his utopia is certainly strongly marked by both Icelandic and Shakespearean motifs, and might it not then be interesting to think of William Guest materialising suddenly in Nowhere as the equivalent of old Hamlet’s ghost appearing so alarmingly on the battlements of Elsinore in that play? Guest may seem nowhere near as formidable or frightening as old Hamlet, but he is, none the less, like Shakespeare’s ghost, the ancestor of those he meets in the realm he visits (the Hammonds in this case); and as recent critics of News from Nowhere have made clear, he bears a good deal of disturbance with him in that work. Moreover, there have been sexually motivated murders in Nowhere as well as in Shakespeare’s Denmark. So I suspect there might well be mileage in a Hamletian and hauntological reading of Morris’s utopia; it would certainly be worth trying out as a suggestive hypothesis, even if we don’t fully accept it in the end – as, arguably, with the idea of a ‘Magnússonian school’ itself.


Tony Pinkney said...

And what a splendid event Richard Wilson's 'Shakespeare and Scandinavia' conference turned out to be, with about 80 Nordic Shakespeareans gathering in Sir Peter Hall's Rose Theatre to thrash out issues across music, philosophy, visual arts, film and television as well as theatre itself. I suppose the highlight for me were the sessions on Kierkegaard and Shakespeare, a topic I'd now like to delve into further for myself. But everyone was on an intellectual high across the four days, and a Nordic Shakespearean Association was formed of which we can expect great things; its first conference will be in Rekjavik in two years time, organised by Martin Regal. So I think Morris and Eirikr Magnusson, had they been hovering benignly over the proceedings, would have entirely approved.

Unknown said...

Mixing two of my favourite things! Iceland and Morris, I found out about his connections not a long time ago and find it fascinating. Thanks for your post and I want to know more know!