Wednesday, February 20, 2008

History in the Making

The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC is hosting a provocative exhibit.
A new exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library called "History in the Making" is an episodic survey of how history and current events were managed, manipulated and mythologized in the years before and after the career of William Shakespeare. It also surveys the politicized and even tendentious historical works that Shakespeare drew upon in his plays, works that were often convenient, dynastic fictions in favor of the Tudor ruling family. And it continues well past the death of Shakespeare, through the middle of the 17th century, ending with the Great Plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of 1666.

Organized by guest curators Alan Stewart and Garrett Sullivan, the new show is presented as a series of vignettes. The curators, mercifully, have not drawn superficial connections between the political mythmaking of four centuries ago and the rapid-fire spin wars of the current political campaign. But the contents of almost every one of the display cases in this engaging show might easily be reduced to a familiar, topical theme: origin myths, scapegoats, God's will, internal enemies, favored sons.

You are left with the sense that while it's dangerous to draw too many connections, the basic strategies of propaganda remain much the same.