Earlier this year, Professor Michael Dobson, the director of the UK’s Shakespeare Institute, visited a university in Ukraine to talk about ‘Spaces for Shakespeare’ (and beer!)

Michael Dobson lecturing
On 7 May 2018 Professor Michael Dobson gave a lecture titled Spaces for Shakespeare at the Ukrainian Shakespeare Centre, Zaporizhzhya Classical Private University, in south east Ukraine.

The Director of the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon, Professor Dobson spoke to a packed lecture theatre of students, teachers and academics from across central and southern Eastern Ukraine.

Following a lively introduction by Director of the Centre, Professor Nataliya Torkut on Shakespeare Days in Ukraine 2018 (a multi-centre Shakespeare festival), there was an enjoyable, wide ranging and insightful lecture by Michael Dobson on Spaces for Shakespeare.

The audience in Zaporizhzhia
“Any space can be a space for Shakespeare,” Professor Dobson stated, “and the more spaces that are a space for Shakespeare the better.”

The lecture took us through the history of Shakespeare’s plays (“His plays are a conversation – always eloquent.”) and performance of them, via the theatres and other places where they have been performed. Trends and styles of different periods in Britain, Europe, the USA, Canada and Australia were covered. Usually-overlooked places in Britain discussed included Middlesborough’s purpose-built post-war theatre, St. Mary’s Guildhall in Coventry, Maddermarket Theare in Norwich, and the planned Shakespeare Playhouse at Prescot, near Liverpool.

Michael Dobson and Nataliya Torkut
Professor Dobson’s observations ranged from the serious (“It is vitally important that countries as well as having their own culture have culture in common.”) to the light-hearted (“Hamlet is a brilliant stand-up comic as well as a doomed young man.”)

He also addressed a question about Shakespeare authorship theories. He revealed that he spent much time in every lecture dealing with this, and that Shakespeare seemed to simply attract the attention of a significant amount of people who psychologically were attracted to conspiracy theories. Dobson pointed out that there is lots of evidence that William Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare and no evidence that any one else did. (The very same week, Prospect Magazine published an article with similar conclusions but more provocative language: ‘Think Shakespeare wasn’t Shakespeare? You might just be a snob’).

More agreeably, Dobson addressed the role of beer in Shakespeare theatre. “Elizabethan theatre started as pub theatre,” he explained. “You can get a very good range of beer at the RSC, the Globe, at every major theatre. Shakespeare writes beautifully about beer.”

We were intrigued to learn that Zaporizhzhia, the sixth-largest city in Ukraine, is home to the exciting academic and cultural venture that is the Ukrainian Shakespeare Centre

Assistant Professor Darya Lazarenko writes:

When this idea first came up, everybody laughed at us – what would Shakespeare have to do with a totally unknown-to-the-world industrial city in the south of Ukraine? We agreed, and jokingly spoke about establishing a Shakespeare Museum. Why not, after all? To paraphrase the words of Ben Jonson, “he was not of an age, but for all time” – and all countries (and cities, at that)! We kept calm and carried on. And so, in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine in 2009 the Ukrainian Shakespeare Centre was established by Professor Nataliya Torkut, a Ukrainian Shakespeare and Renaissance scholar, and a team of devoted ‘Ariels’.

Ukrainian Shakespeare Centre

Ukrainian Shakespeare Centre

 
Today the USC is one of the leading Ukrainian academic institutions in the domain of Shakespeare studies, and though we are still sometimes looked at as ‘upstart crows’, we do not mind – we feel proud, in fact. Our aim is to help Ukrainian scholars, teachers, students, readers and theatre-goers believe they all can be upstart crows too.

The Centre organized and successfully carried out five International Shakespeare conferences (in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2014 and 2016). In cooperation with the Union of Ukrainian Women in the USA, we established an Annual competition of Shakespeare research papers for young Ukrainian scholars, named after Vitaliy Keis. We all very much enjoy reading those ambitious, daring and sometimes even touchingly iconoclastic works that are sent to us for review. We believe this initiative will help us fight the “copy and paste” syndrome that has befallen the young generation.

Professor Nataliya Torkut

Professor Nataliya Torkut

 
In 2009 the Centre launched the website The Ukrainian Shakespeare Portal, which is the first attempt of multimedia representation of Ukrainian Shakespeareana. The portal is regularly updated – it contains a large selection of articles on Shakespeare-related issues (written in Ukrainian, Russian and English), Ukrainian translations of the Bard’s drama and poetry, and an extensive database concerning the Ukrainian reception of Shakespeare’s legacy. Going online for us is one of the ways to prove Shakespeare is not just modern and relevant, but is at the very edge cutting edge today.

To foster Shakespeare scholarship in Ukraine, the Centre has established the annual scholarly journal Shakespeare Discourse (three issues have been published so far). This journal has gained recognition not only in Ukraine but also abroad. Its regular contributors are Shakespeare researchers from the USA, Canada, the UK, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Germany and the Netherlands.

Shakespeare Tragedies Kyiv
We have already started a process of collecting a special Shakespeare library which is unique for Ukraine. Thanks to donations made by Helmut Bonheim, Sophie Pashe, Stanley Wells, Balz Engler, Paul Franssen, Daniel Doerksen, Mary Elisabeth Smith, Michael Dobson and others, this library will allow us to provide critical works on Shakespeare to our colleagues all over Ukraine.

Another aim of the Centre – probably, the most significant one in the long-term perspective – is spreading Shakespeare’s word among young people in our country and making the Bard’s heritage a core element of the Ukrainian school literary curriculum. The members of the Centre conducted several seminars on teaching Shakespeare at school, established the annual competition for school teachers ‘The Best Shakespeare Lesson’ (since 2013), and offer scholarly and methodological support of Shakespeare-related projects at school. In 2014 we launched the email subscription Shakescribe.ua which contains curious facts about the Bard, his writings, life and times.

Professor Kateryna Vasylyna

Professor Kateryna Vasylyna

 
Youngsters are the most challenging and at the same time the most gratifying audience. They often come to us with a conviction that Shakespeare is just a monument on a high pedestal – celebrated, even worshipped, but – alas! – boring. Our aim here is to let the kids see the truth about Shakespeare – his plays are anything but boring! We do it by encouraging them to play along – become Shakespeare scholars themselves and discover, for example, why Malvolio’s stockings were actually yellow and why he so much favoured the notorious cross garters.

They become philosophers when dwelling on the mysterious words of Ben Jonson: “Thou are a monument without a tomb” and work on their eloquence while defending Shakespeare-the-glover’s-son against the anti-Stratfordian claims. By finding out that Shakespeare married young and that he turned out to be a very successful businessman they establish a close ‘supertemporal’ connection with him – he seems to them younger and less of a monument. We hope that in such a way we will kindle the light of curiosity that will in the future make them devour hundreds and thousands of books – not only Shakespeare, but other writers too. We hope that reading will help them change the world and make it a better place for all of us to live in – without war and hatred.

Shakespeare figures Torkut 2
Even more projects we see in our mind’s eye. And this, probably, is one of the best things about our Centre – it gives hope, it inspires and makes you believe in miracles – with all the slings and arrows still flying around in these turbulent times. If you would like to join our company of dreamers, “lunatics, lovers and poets”, you are very welcome! We are looking forward to hearing your ideas and suggestions, words of encouragement or criticism, anything from love letters to translations and lesson plans – at lrs_info@meta.ua

For more information, visit the Ukrainian Shakespeare Centre website.