Oor wullie: Burns and Shakespeare

Tuesday 25 January 2005

An academic at the University of St Andrews has claimed that it was as a direct result of the influence of Robert Burns that Shakespeare became known as ‘the bard’.

Professor Robert Crawford of the University’s School of English makes the claim in a new collection of essays edited by colleague Dr Andrew Murphy. The book, launched today, explores the influence of Scotland on Shakespeare’s writing and the dramatic effects that his work had on the development of Scottish literature.

In his contribution to the book Professor Crawford argues: “In late sixteenth-century England, ‘bard’ wasn’t used to describe playwrights like Shakespeare.

“It was term applied to Welsh and Gaelic wandering minstrels. It took a crisis of identity in eighteenth-century Scotland, and the vogue for Scottish bards such as Ossian and Burns, to jog England into identifying a national ‘bard’ of its own.”

Shakespeare and Scotland, edited by Dr Murphy and Professor Willy Maley of the University of Glasgow highlights many important connections between Scotland and Shakespeare that have previously been overlooked or underplayed.

Dr Murphy said: ‘When you mention Shakespeare and Scotland to people, they might come up with Macbeth as “The Scottish Play”, but they don’t register the fact that Shakespeare belonged to a company of actors called The King’s Men – and the king in question was James VI, who was Scottish.

“When Macbeth visits the witches they show him a prophetic line of kings, the last one in succession holding a mirror. James VI would have been at the performance and seen his own face looking back at him. King Lear, Macbeth, and Hamlet are all plays with anxieties about succession. The historical background to that anxiety – a Scottish king on the English throne – is really vital.”

Another essay in the collection discusses the Scottish publishing history of Shakespeare and reveals that it was Scottish publishers and their cheap imprints, particularly of an academic textbook by Hugh Blair, that took Shakespeare into the American university system. A different essay, meanwhile, discusses the radical influence on Scottish politics of Giles Havergal’s outrageous all-male staging of Hamlet at Glasgow’s Citizen’s Theatre in 1970.

Dr Murphy continued: ‘Looking at the presence of Scotland in Shakespeare can tell us a lot about the historical and political context of his work, but looking at the historic and continuing presence of Shakespeare in Scotland can also tell us a great deal about Scottish politics and culture. It’s a rich dialogue. We hope our book will make people think again about its many dimensions.’

Shakespeare in Scotland, a collection of essays edited by Andrew Murphy and Willy Maley is published by Manchester University Press, priced £50 (hardback) or £14.99 (paperback).



Dr Andrew Murphy, University of St Andrews is available on 01333 313127 Professor Robert Crawford, University of St Andrews is available on 01334 462666 Professor Willy Maley, University of Glasgow is available on 0141 330 2554

Issued by Beattie Media On behalf of the University of St Andrews Contact Gayle Cook, Press Officer on 01334 467227 / 462529, mobile 07900 050 103, or email gec3@st- andrews.ac.uk Ref: Oor Wullie 240105.doc View the latest University press releases at http://www.st- andrews.ac.uk

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