This site accompanies the exhibition Position and Imposition: MCAD Faculty Responds to Politics at the Minneapolis College of Art & Design. It is a forum for MCAD's Liberal Arts faculty to recommend books, films, and other cultural artifacts that contribute to the dialogue surrounding the exhibition. We invite you to comment on the books, the work in the exhibition, and address how they are part of a larger conversation about art, politics, and society.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

William Alexander

Shakespeare is magnificently political. We revere the playwright as the untouchable and transcendent bard, but he was also a part of the ordinary interactions, negotiations and dangers of his day—and ours. He tackled radical gender politics and the fallibility of monarchs.

In Measure for Measure, premarital sex becomes a capital crime. The governor enforcing this law against amorous citizens ends up falling for a girl as severe as he is, and suffers a crisis of conscience. Rather than relaxing the law, he tries to blackmail the girl into secretly sleeping with him, thereby diving into the same sort of hypocrisy which currently plagues homophobic politicians in airport restrooms.

It's possible to sum this up as a solid political stance: Puritans are bad. Will Shakespeare probably thought so (they kept trying to shut down his theatre). But the characters in Measure who speak most eloquently against puritanical laws are the pimps and madams that the laws put out of business—they act out of self-interest, and the playwright himself keeps his head down.

Shakespeare's politics are so very slippery to specify, not because he rises above the vulgar negotiations between ourselves and each other, but because he is too immersed in them, too much a part of that magnificent mess.

[[ William Alexander is a fiction writer, an editorial assistant at Rain Taxi Review of Books, and an adjunct faculty member of the MCAD Liberal Arts department. One of his Life in Art courses focuses on William Shakespeare, severely stretching the course description of "a contemporary artist."]]

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