As much as my instincts tell me I should take issue with this essay on Shakespeare (by Paul A. Cantor) in The Claremont Review of Books, I just can't. All too much of it is all too true. Still, this summary passage has its own conceptual problems:
It is a truism that every age remakes Shakespeare in its own image. If so, Wood's Shakespeare is a sad commentary on our age. In both academic scholarship and popular accounts like Wood's, people today struggle to translate Shakespeare into contemporary terms, to make him speak our language and echo our peculiar concerns. The result is to cut Shakespeare down to size and lose sight of everything that makes him unique among authors. In the distorting mirror we hold up to Shakespeare, we see reflected back only what we wish to see—all the obsessions of our particular moment, and that means chiefly the obsession with victimization, of people oppressed in terms of race, class, and gender. In the age of victimology, Wood thinks he has done Shakespeare a favor; he has found a way to present Shakespeare himself as a victim, a closet Catholic in a Protestant police state. "Catholic" is about the only oppressed minority to which Wood could assign Shakespeare with any plausibility.
The approaches to Shakespeare these days are particularly reductive, but I really can't see an alternative to the attempt "to translate Shakespeare into contemporary terms, to make him speak our language and echo our peculiar concerns." If we can't make Shakespeare's plays "speak" to us in our own historical circumstances, then literally he can't speak to us at all. And, as Cantor acknowledges, all generations of readers and critics rewrite Shakespeare for their own purposes. This includes the generations who presented us with Shakespeare the pillar of culture and civilization, which was no more accurate an "image" of Shakespeare as the one Cantor deplores. The only way to appreciate the plays of Shakespeare both for what they were and what they are is to devote much, much time to studying them and their various contexts. This is, unfortunately, probably no longer something many people are willing to do.