The forthcoming World Shakespeare Festival 2012 is bringing together theater companies from all around the world - but an invite to Israeli theater company Habima to perform The Merchant of Venice at the festival has touched a raw nerve.
A list of 37 theater heavyweights signed an open letter to The Guardian, including Mike Leigh, Caryl Churchill and Emma Thompson to name but a few. All were expressing their "dismay and regret" at the Globe Theatre's inclusion of Habima in the World Shakespeare Festival program.
The letter states:
"By inviting Habima, the Globe is associating itself with policies of exclusion practised by the Israeli state and endorsed by its national theatre company. We ask the Globe to withdraw the invitation so that the festival is not complicit with human rights violations and the illegal colonisation of occupied land."
The festival does include a performance by Ashtar Theatre, a Palestinian company; a fact that seems to have been overshadowed by the controversy surrounding Habima.
On one hand this is a festival about Shakespeare and language - not politics; on the other hand, politics, history and state are indelibly part of the culture of theater. It is woven into its DNA - perhaps more tightly than most other art forms. Indeed, Shakespeare's own politics seep through his words written some four centuries ago.
Perhaps it is the nature of theater; perhaps it is plain irresponsible; perhaps it is simply the choice of play - your views, as always, are welcome.