The essays in this volume are an attempt at liberating, not fossilising, Shakespeare.
Shakespeare without English: The Reception of Shakespeare in Non-Anglophone Countries, edited by Sukanta Chaudhuri and Chee Seng Lim, Pearson Longman, 2006, p. 220, price not stated.
Others abide our question. Thou art free.
We ask and ask Thou smilest and art still
HAROLD BLOOM was not far wrong when he remarked in The Invention of the Human (1998) that Shakespeare changed the representation of human nature: Shakespeare invented human personality. How else can we account for the wealth of invaluable information we gain from Shakespeare without English? This volume consists of 11 scholarly papers presented at the Seventh World Shakespeare Congress held in Valencia, Spain, in April 2001. The objective of the seminar was "to explore how Shakespeare's text was being or could be presented in the classrooms of countries where English was not the primary spoken language; also, what wider implications this academic exercise held for society and the arts in those countries" (vii). These essays tackle the question of how the Bard of Avon is appropriated in non-Anglophone countries such as Korea, Japan, Romania, Germany, Spain, Brazil and, of course, India.
A monolithic Shakespeare is a myth, a chimera! Honestly speaking, even in the Anglophone nations, there are many Shakespeares, both in text and performance. There are bowdlerised editions (Verity, Deighton) as well as standard Arden and New Arden editions, reissued periodically, with a copious full-fledged introduction, glossary, criticism and what not. There are pristine performances and conscious redactions of the original Elizabethan productions as well as gun-toting, pop-singing, modern adaptations.
The picture is even more complex in non-Anglophone countries. Alexander Huang examines the phenomenon of "cultural translation" of Shakespeare in Taiwan. He discusses the avant-garde play "Shamlet" ("a revenge comedy" that, in the author's view, "has nothing to do with `Hamlet' but something to do with Shakespeare") and shows how this is a palimpsest, a "post-modern pastiche" of the original "Hamlet". This is a way of bringing into focus how classical texts have a bearing on contemporary events. The Korean play "King Uru", a reworking of "King Lear", illustrates how Shakespeare's myths and folk tales are not merely "timeless embodiments" but are narratives which are eminently "transportable".
"Why Shakespeare in Japan?" proves conclusively that "the new trend of Shakespearean scholarship has come to pay attention to `Shakespeares' outside the Anglo-American establishment" (p.68). Amateur theatre groups in Japan seek Shakespeare not to venerate or pay homage to him but to provide an adequate alternative to their own canonical plays. Shormishtha Panja's paper examines the production of "Othello A Study of Black and White" to illustrate how the play has been adapted and modified. It becomes "a site for conflicting anxieties about race, class and language" (p.114).
Shakespeare in German productions demonstrate that the poet "endures" in reworkings since his narrative not the language as such functions as "transnational discourse". It is "Shakespeare's `alienness', rather than his `Englishness', in which the viewers from non-Anglophone cultures see themselves" (p.171). Harish Trivedi problematises the various aspects of Shakespeare in India in the classroom, in performance, in reception and concludes that the relationship between the Anglophone and the non-Anglophone is a complex one. In the emerging context, Shakespeare in non-Anglophone countries has a wider reach and sweep, impressive London and Broadway productions and densely annotated scholarly editions notwithstanding. Verily the empire writes back!
The essays in this volume deconstruct the essentialist colonial attitude of fetishising Shakespeare. It is no longer valid to treat Shakespeare as the bastion of English highbrow culture or the icon of refinement and taste. Instead of fossilising him, believing that he is meant only for the chosen elite, why not liberate him? Why lock him up in an ivory tower? Shakespeare without English does precisely that. Backed up and buttressed by a considerable amount of painstaking research, the book is at once immensely readable and insightful. It pluralises and relocates Shakespeare, assimilating him into post-modern sensibility. Need one add that Shakespeare without English is a veritable treasure trove for students, scholars and admirers of Shakespeare?
Send this article to Friends by