Performing Shakespeare in Contemporary Taiwan

Huang, Ya-hui (2012) Performing Shakespeare in Contemporary Taiwan. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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Since the 1980s, Taiwan has been subjected to heavy foreign and global influences, leading to a marked erosion of its traditional cultural forms. Indigenous traditions have had to struggle to hold their own and to strike out into new territory, adopt or adapt to Western models. For most theatres in Taiwan, Shakespeare has inevitably served as a model to be imitated and a touchstone of quality. Such Taiwanese Shakespeare performances prove to be much more than merely a combination of Shakespeare and Taiwan, constituting a new fusion which shows Taiwan as hospitable to foreign influences and unafraid to modify them for its own purposes.
Nonetheless, Shakespeare performances in contemporary Taiwan are not only a demonstration of hybridity of Westernisation but also Sinification influences. Since the 1945 Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party, or KMT) takeover of Taiwan, the KMT’s one-party state has established Chinese identity over a Taiwan identity by imposing cultural assimilation through such practices as the Mandarin-only policy during the Chinese Cultural Renaissance in Taiwan. Both Taiwan and Mainland China are on the margin of a “metropolitan bank of Shakespeare knowledge” (Orkin, 2005, p. 1), but it is this negotiation of identity that makes the Taiwanese interpretation of Shakespeare much different from that of a Mainlanders’ approach, while they share certain commonalities that inextricably link them.

This study thus examines the interrelation between Taiwan and Mainland China operatic cultural forms and how negotiation of their different identities constitutes a singular different Taiwanese Shakespeare from Chinese Shakespeare. In recognising this, the core of this thesis rests on how Shakespeare plays speak insightfully to Taiwan society across historical, geographical, and cultural boundaries. Many Shakespeare plays powerfully echo the political turmoil of contemporary Taiwan society, but it is the negotiation of the political and cultural dependency that constitutes a distinct Taiwanese Shakespeare identity that is different from Chinese Shakespeare. This study therefore focuses on Shakespeare performances in contemporary Taiwan between 1986 and 2003, emphasising political context as key factor in adaptation, as Taiwan society transited from a military age to post-millennium democracy after martial law was lifted in 1987.

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