Shakespeare in Popular Culture: a “Double Access”

Oumeima Mouelhi, Tunis, ID LLCE2017-118;       Abstract:  Popular culture is one of the forces that have produced the Shakespeare of our time, and studying his cultural value prompts us to turn our attention toward broad questions about Shakespeare’s place, past, present, and future in the politics of culture. Popular culture is a terrain of exchange and negotiation between high culture and mass culture; a terrain marked by resistance and incorporation. Instead of the idea of hegemony, there is a powerful model of how high and low cultures interact and affect each other.  The Shakespeare we confront today has been globalized beyond the confines of any single language or territory, as media exchange his works back and forth across national borders.Shakespeare is still inspiring and firing debate in the twenty first century. In this context, Shakespeare has been metamorphosed across the years from a literary object to a free resource to fit the ‘taste’ of young and old, high and mass audiences alike. It is this function, this ability to contain and articulate binaries but also negotiate between them, that the cultural value of Shakespeare lies. Shakespeare becomes the place where value is debated, and as such, he is always already value-generative. His works bridge the gap between what might seem as tensions between highbrow and lowbrow and between elite and mass rather than present them as confrontations.

This paper seeks to trace the roots of Shakespeare’s integration into current popular culture and the challenge to define the Bard’s position to what is thought as, “mass culture”, or “low” culture. I will argue that the double edged nature and the simultaneous attraction and tension between Shakespeare and popular culture is a distinguishing characteristic of their relationship rather than a site of contest and confrontation.

Keywords: Shakespeare-popular culture-mass culture-elite-highbrow-lowbrow-hegemony-tension.