Shakespeare as Détente: Cultural Diplomacy during the Cold War

by Viviana Iacob, at Shakespeare in Romania, Shakespeare in the World, Romanian Academy Library, Bucharest, 12-14 April, 2016.

Abstract

The visit of the Royal Shakespeare Company in Bucharest and the Romanian delegation at Stratford in 1964 were not singular and momentous achievements of détente cultural diplomacy. I consider themvisible results of an exchange program with Great Britain that begins in earnest in the mid-1950s.

During the Cold War, theatre was no stranger to the clash between the two competing views on modernity. With the beginning of détente in Europe, the countries behind the Iron Curtain capitalized on points of contact that would speed up the cultural rapprochement. Consequently, when it came to engaging with a western theatre tradition such as Britain’s, Shakespeare was always thestarting point for this transnational conversation.

From mid-fifties onward, Romanian theatre practitioners and Shakespeare scholars pursued such exchanges as a means to strengthen diplomatic ties between the two countries. Mony Ghelerter, Lucia Sturza Bulandra, Mihnea Gheorghiu, Radu Beligan, Lucian Giurchescu, Călin Florian travelled to Britain to engage with Shakespeare’s theatre in its original milieu or to speak about its importance for the Romanian theatre tradition.

My presentation will focus on the moments, from 1955 until 1965, when Shakespeare was a common ground for dialogue between East and West. This type of cultural interaction is often ignored by specialized literature. Its importance consists in the creation of a potential trans-national space of theatre theory and practice across the Iron Curtain.

My sources include the archive of the Romanian Institute for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs archive, journals such as the British-Romanian Bulletin and World Theatre and memoirs gathered in an effort to map these encounters.

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