Academic analyses in cultural studies of the second half of the twentieth century had made a case to extend the term 'culture' to the tastes, practices and creativity of the groups marginalised by ethnicity and class. This book deals with Shakespeare's role in contemporary culture in twenty-first-century England. It looks in detail at the way that Shakespeare's plays inform modern ideas of cultural value and the work required to make Shakespeare part of modern culture. The book shows how advocacy for Shakespeare's universal and transcendent values deal with multiple forms of 'Shakespeare' in the present and the past. His plays have the potential to provide a tangible proxy for value that may stabilise the contingency and uncertainty that attends the discussion of both value and culture in the twenty-first century. The book shows how the discussions of culture involve both narratives of cultural change and ways of managing the knowledge in order to arrive at definitions of culture as valuable. It examines the new languages of value proffered by the previous Labour government in the first decade of the twenty-first century. The book further shows how both the languages and the practice of contemporary cultural policy have been drastically affected by economic pressures and the political changes occasioned by the post-2008 fiscal crisis.
This chapter shows the powerful influence of policy discourse on the concept of cultural value. The phrase 'cultural value' encapsulated a way of talking about culture that focussed less on its social and economic benefits, and more on its 'essential' qualities. Central to this movement was the 2004 paper in which the then Secretary of State, Tessa Jowell, launched a search for a new language of value. The social goals of boosting 'educational attainment' and reducing 'crime' are still present in Jowell's account, alongside other instrumental benefits. Following Jowell's report, and Arts Council England's (ACE's) first attempt to measure the value of culture through a 'public value' survey, the first decade of the twenty-first century saw rapid transformation in the government discourse of cultural value. Shakespeare is a high-status cultural object whose leading theatrical institution is in receipt of regular, major government funding via ACE.
The Shakespeare brand' has offered scholars, as well as marketers, a compelling language with which to try to explain Shakespeare's value in the twenty-first century. This chapter argues that commercial organisations do not simply borrow value from Shakespeare and trade profitably on his name, but also 'co-produce' new kinds of meaning and value for Shakespeare in the market. It shows how organisations have generated, to their own benefit, the powerful impression of a Shakespeare brand, downplaying to a certain extent their own identity in order to work in the name of Shakespeare. The chapter also argues that the Shakespeare brand is an impression retrospectively constructed by the organisations that appropriate and deploy Shakespeare's name for their own purposes. The twenty-first-century 'destination marketing' of Stratford-upon-Avon and its locale provides an excellent example of how the impression of a Shakespeare brand continues to be constructed and deployed to market very different products.
Critical and anthropological definitions of culture have co-existed at least since the almost contemporaneous publication of Matthew Arnold's Culture and Anarchy and E. B. Tylor's Primitive Culture and they persist in the contemporary discourse of institutional work. An anthropological view of culture, in which institutions promote the shared practices, behaviours and even creative products of their communities and visitors. Historically, 'access' to cultural objects has long been held to be the most valuable thing that an institution could provide: a founding imperative for many museums and galleries. In some ways, 'Shakespeare' suits the 'access' model very well. Physical proximity to the actors, the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) asserts, 'improves the relationship' and enhances the 'experience' of attending a theatre performance. The chapter shows how very readily different cultural institutions have adapted themselves to the changing discourses of value in the twenty-first century.
Culture, provides a resource for an effective form of adaptation to the restless innovation and global sourcing of exchange markets in the developed world. At this point in the twenty-first century, the position of 'Shakespeare' as a valued cultural object continues to appear unassailable. The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) produced a special series of performances that included new international productions. The BBC launched a Shakespeare season that included new films of the second tetralogy of history plays and broadcast the new Royal Shakespeare Company production of Julius Caesar, supported by programmes of commentary and analysis. The 'theatrical Shakespeare' available in contemporary culture is a resource for cultural reproduction whose effects are managed by performance and design to create a space for communal pleasure. 'Shakespeare' becomes a free resource for cultural reproduction as well as an open field of knowledge in which individual taste and opinion can have free play.
The shape of the argument over cultural value revealed the continuities as well as the changes that had taken place since 2004. The financial logic of diminished state funding had reduced government responsibility for direct provision of specific cultural goods. Writing in The Guardian in 2011, Mark Brown described the enormous success of the National Theatre's 2007 adaptation of Michel Morpurgo's 1982 children's novel War Horse. The continuing difficulty of establishing the value of cultural goods produced, distributed and consumed in complex contemporary markets applies as much to 'Shakespeare' as to other forms. In the world of a Shakespeare play, events have consequences and the characters' metaphorical commentary articulates the emotional and the ethical significance of their connection. Shakespeare's plays not only stage debates over value, they also provide an open field in which individual views about the characters behaviour can be given free rein.
This chapter explores the extent to which the narratives and the uses of metaphor that structure the terms of the value equation in 'Shakespeare' are also relevant to an account of the value of culture. The narratives, metaphors and abstractions that structured accounts of 'culture' in the twentieth century were the source of both its strength and its weaknesses. As Adam Kuper has shown, the politics of a homogenised idea of culture that elided practices and objects with groups could as easily be used for oppressive as for egalitarian political purposes. The critique of the ethically positive view of culture was co-ordinated by an association committed to women's rights. Henrietta Moore's discussion of the role of knowledge in the process of cultural change offers a useful analytical model with which to understand the conflict over cultural value as it occurs in twenty-first-century England.
Stephen Greenblatt, in a collection appropriately entitled Shakespearean Negotiations, distinguished Shakespeare's work from other 'collective expressions' that, he finds, 'when moved from their original settings to a new place or time are dead on arrival'. In Greenblatt's case the intrinsic value of Shakespeare is re-negotiated as the 'social energy' with which the plays engage subsequent readers; in Jonathan Bate's case it is identified by selective quotation, glossed and explicated for particular rhetorical purposes. In the closed world of Shakespeare's dramatic narratives, value can, for the duration of the story, seem completely transcendent, and is the occasion for struggle, fighting and death. In both King Lear and The Merchant of Venice, the turns of the plays' events work to expose the gap between these symbolic values and their all too material outcome.
Tessa Jowell's advocacy for a culture valued by 'the whole nation' was an attempt to argue that 'culture' that could be best ensured by the state's financial support for the complex arts. The rhetorical exclusions involved in defining the sphere of cultural value were less to do with making a case for culture than for securing assent to the effects of Arts Council policy. In his systematic analysis of the problems of 'capturing cultural value', John Holden proposed a complex system of distinct forms of value that might be applied to culture. The task of the cultural analysts was to facilitate what Stuart Cunningham, a sociologist of culture, has described as 'public processes involved in formulating, implementing and contesting governmental intervention in and support of cultural activity'. The analysts and advocates often worked in and for the same organisations and were equally aware of the others' claim for value.
The account of cultural value provided by ministerial statements and groups of arts enthusiasts gives some indication of the difficulties involved in arriving at a stable definition of cultural value in twenty-first-century England. The tension between ideas of value arrived at through consensus and those arrived at by systematic analysis was seldom a question of explicit disagreement about the value of this or that object. Steven Connor, for example, begins his analysis of Theory and Cultural Value by addressing head-on 'the conflict between absolute and relative value'. Connor's highly abstract concept of the universal nature of the tendency to value does not itself offer an absolute value. The gap between principles and practice is as fundamental to the nature of value as the gap between the absolute and the contingent: indeed, it may be the most profound version of it.