Bardland: From the Theme Park Gates to the Gift Shop
by Meggie Ong
All videos, images, websites etcetera used in this essay belong to their respective owners (I wish the Shakespeare doll were mine though).
Note: I apologize for the awful formatting and lack of spaces between paragraphs. I have no idea how to work WordPress! Harhar.
Behold, Shakespeare the ever-elusive omnipresent icon, not as plays, films, music and comics but as a “historical site” (Stratford-upon-avon) , a theater (the Globe), a theme park (Shakespeare Country Park in Japan and Elizabethan Village in Australia)
and as a gift shop:
This is what many call Bardolatry. As defined by Dictionary.com, Bardolatry refers to “idolatry or excessive admiration for Shakespeare.” I guess the term itself clearly shows this, it being a combination of the word “Bard” pertaining to Shakespeare and well, idolatry. Coined by George Bernard Shaw in 1901, it is the catch-all term for the world’s obsession with Shakespeare, from reinterpretations of his plays to the archaeological efforts in his hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon.
So, what is the issue with bardolatry? To many, it is appreciating Shakespeare to a whole new level. To many others, it is ludicrous and nonsense. But is it really just all of that? Maybe this trend tells us something more, especially with those obsessed with owning Shakespeare-related merchandise and being where or seeing something Shakespeare historically should have touched.
In Dennis Kennedy’s essay, Shakespeare and Cultural Tourism, he explains that inherent to contemporary human culture is the search and increasing demand for heritage and culture. What everyone is into right now is something from the past, like retro fashion, remakes of old hit songs, classic animation (e.g. classic Pooh versus 3D Pooh), antiques and heritage or historical theme parks. We enjoy living on the “remains” of things past. Maybe this is a product of post-modernism, with the idea that nothing now is original anymore, or maybe because the past is definite, in that it has happened already, versus the anxieties and uncertainty characteristic of the present.
Given this, I pose the idea that perhaps our obsession with Shakespeare is a manifestation of this, further illustrating our attraction to the past. To quote Kennedy, “the past is unapproachable but tempts us with the illusion of the knowable.” Precisely because it is the past, for example, the Elizabethan era, it is something we in this contemporary time cannot have ever experienced (until time travel that is) and hence will always be unapproachable. But because of all the historical accounts, artifacts, surviving books and documentation, we lead ourselves into thinking that we know for certain what the past was, sometimes to the point that it seems like we were actually there. But regardless, these parallel lines exist and a coping method, a way for us to bridge them, is by looking for the past through real, tangible objects like Stratford-upon-avon, Anne Hathaway’s cottage, the remnants of Shakespeare’s window.
In these objects we commodify the past, not to mention the heritage and culture that comes along with it. (Kennedy) By owning these things, either by experiencing them or by owning replicas, we believe we are connecting with the Bard. We also think that through this connection, we have a more legitimate frame with which to see his work, particularly when as tourists we flock to the Globe or to Stratford-upon-Avon. So in the end, we learn something and are enriched, as what the Disney head honchos would call “edutainment”. (Var)
If that is a possible explanation for the love of anything Shakespeare, what happens when these ‘artifacts’ and ‘historical sites’ are fake? Does inauthenticity turn the whole thing over, destroying the ‘time travel’ we have achieved via the Bard? Sociologist Erik Cohen explains that authenticity is relative, that it is only a social fact, a social construct. What is originally inauthentic can become authentic over time. As something man-made that, because of its presence and constant ‘replaying’, becomes reality. In the example that Dennis Kennedy gave, he cited that Disneyland, for all its inauthenticity and role as the gateway to the imagined unreal, will eventually become (already in the process of becoming, actually) an authentic aspect of American culture.
Thus the question of authenticity is not really an issue. It does not really matter if the Globe theater accurately follows the original Elizabethan architecture, nor if it stages its plays the same way they did. What matters is that for its visitors, it is a tangible link that transcends time, some avenue by which they can reach the Bard. It could mean many things to tourists; as a historical site, a theater, a learning center or a theme park, but all of these points of view lead back to the same fuzzy concept that is Shakespeare.
In the end, maybe we shouldn’t be too hard on the fangirls. (Harhar) Does commodification degrade heritage and culture, does it make Shakespeare less? In my opinion, I think not. I find that it adds a layer of interest; it becomes more accessible, the way Shakespeare is everywhere. Just because something is everywhere does not make it less, at least in a cultural standpoint, because then it becomes the majority, the mass culture that to many is the whole reality itself.
Cohen, Eric. “Authenticity and Commoditization in Tourism.” Annals of Tourism Research (1988): 371-386.
Henderson, Diana E. “Shakespeare the Theme Park.” Shakespeare after Mass Media. Ed. Richard Burt. New York: Palgrave, 2002. 107-126.
Kennedy, Dennis. “Shakespeare and Cultural Tourism.” Theater Journal 50.2 (1998): 175-188.
Santesso, Aaron. “The Birth of the Birthplace: Bread Street and Literary Tourism before Stratford.” ELH 71.2 (2004): 377-403.
Var, Turgut. “conference report.” Annals of Tourism Research (1993): 376.