Shakespeare and the Cultural Impressment of Ireland
Type of DegreeDissertation
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Using a combined lens of cultural materialist and postcolonial studies to read the early modern inclusion of Irish in the culture of the British empire, this study explores --Y΄cultural impressment‘ as a descriptor for Shakespeare’s representations of the Irish. Shakespeare, as part of a national self-defining project in English writing, represented the Irish as needing English governance. If an empire is engaged in a project of self definition that promotes the right to rule and privileges domestic national interests, then a group of people targeted for colonization must be represented in a way that justifies the rule of the empire, a way which depicts them as inferior enough to need foreign governance but similar enough to warrant inclusion. A writer creating such a representation is committing an act of cultural violence best described by the term --Y΄cultural impressment,‘ which I define as an act, perpetrated through cultural production, of forcibly enlisting another in the service of the empire. The downside of cultural impressment for the empire is that this act necessarily fragments the representation of the marginalized group, and in doing so provides it with the opportunity for dissident readings of the texts in which the marginalized finds itself represented. Through a combination of reappropriation of Shakespeare’s work and negative definition against it, writers of the Irish nationalist movement have been able to resist English cultural superiority by exploiting the fragmented identity created for them to prevent a resolved imperial identity. Irish writers stubbornly insisted on reading English texts in terms of their own experience, in terms of the very culture that the English had subordinated but never totally eradicated, but with the additional ammunition of inherited literature provided by the culture forced upon them. This study of cultural impressment is driven by works which appear most prominently in the writing of the Irish nationalist movement the early twentieth century. In Richard II, Henry V, and Hamlet, Shakespeare demonstrates pragmatism winning over idealism. Irish writers who responded through reappropriation and writing against their imperial constructions include Sean O’Casey, Samuel Beckett, W. B. Yeats, G. B. Shaw, James Joyce, and Seamus Heaney.