Archive for the ‘Region’ Category

The Impermanence of Son and Stone: Transience as Personal Narrative in Wu Hsing-Kuo’s Lear is Here, Wu Hsing-Kuo Meets Shakespeare

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

By Haylie Swenson, George Washington University

 

First performed in a workshop with Ariane Mnouchkine in 2000 and later toured, in an extended form, around the world, this one-man show is a professional and emotional tour de force for Wu. Performing in an experimental hybrid of traditional Beijing Opera, or jingju, and postmodern theatrical forms, Wu portrays nine characters from King Lear as well as himself and powerfully engages with aspects of his biography, especially his filial relationship with his late acting teacher and his feelings of identity fragmentation. Consequently, the emphasis of this performance is not on Shakespeare, but on Wu, as Alex Huang notes:

As its full title Lear is Here, Wu Hsing-Kuo Meets Shakespeare suggests, this play is Wu’s autobiographical rendition of Shakespeare’s dramatization of a troubled relationship between father and child. The second part of the title should be accorded primacy. It is Wu who meets Shakespeare, and it is through such an encounter that Wu is able to negotiate multiple identities, especially that of Wu as a performer and that of his dead master.” (Huang 219-220)

Critical responses to Lear is Here have followed Huang in largely focusing on these autobiographical themes; Wu himself has also foregrounded these issues in his discussions of the performance. However, this abundance of critical attention has left some of the production’s other themes unexplored. In this paper I examine how Wu uses Lear as a vehicle for a meditation not only on specific details of his autobiography, but on larger issues of transience and the inevitability of loss. Although these themes resonate throughout the play, I would argue that Act One, which features Lear in the storm, is a particularly fitting segment with which to view these issues. This is partially because of the lack of stasis inherent in the storm and the heath. As Steve Mentz argues, “New ecologists see constant change and instability as fundamental to natural systems, and Shakespeare’s play represents the human consequences of living in this incessantly mutable world” (Mentz 139). Wu’s representation of Lear on the heath, I argue, similarly engages with the traumatic consequences of living in a changeable world, especially as those consequences relate to Wu himself. In Act One Wu thus combines his personal autobiography, Lear as a character, and deeply symbolic sets and costumes to relate Shakespeare’s “universal” themes of transience and loss through a highly personal lens.

Eschewing much of the original plot of King Lear, Wu structures his production to emphasize this personal experience. Act 1, “Play,” features Lear in the storm upon the heath. Largely nonverbal, this twenty seven-minute long act highlights Wu’s mastery of pantomime and acrobatics. By contrast, Act 2, “Playing,” showcases Wu’s ability to shift roles and the identity fracturing that results. In this act Wu switches back and forth between an astonishing nine characters: The Fool, the Earl of Kent, Lear, Goneril, Regan, Cordelia, blind Gloucester, Edmund, and “mad” Edgar. Act 3, “Player,” returns the focus to Wu, who plays himself as a character in an act tinged with Buddhist overtones. As Huang notes, “the play is a journey from the inner world of the lonely Lear, through a burst of multiple identities and characters, to the autobiographical, manifested by the lonely Wu Hsing-Kuo” (220). Restructuring the play in this way thus allows Wu to dramatize his personal relationship with Shakespeare, the eponymous “meeting” of the second half of his production’s title.

Wu’s participation in—and reimaging of—the jingju theatrical tradition is an important element in his autobiographical approach to the play. Jingju is a highly stylized form of theater that combines vocal performance, dance, music, mime, and acrobatics and that has a markedly political component in Wu’s home country of Taiwan due to its close association with “Chineseness.” As Huang notes, “After martial law was lifted [in Taiwan] in the 1980s, jingju’s association with China became its ‘original sin,’ as it were. Jingju thus evolved from a state-endorsed and well-funded theater genre to one that was rejected by the majority of the Taiwanese audience” (Huang 217). Wu’s interest in and commitment to jingju has thus led to several clashes with the arts funding structure in Taiwan. Wu’s frustration at the lack of funding available for jingju performances is palpable in his Act One performance of Lear, as he himself suggests: “You can see that inside King Lear, his thought is full of rage and unhappiness—he is not satisfied. And my character is like King Lear’s; as an artist, I like to work in a way that is very open and free, but when we apply for financial support, we are often examined very strictly, and made to work in more conventional ways. So I am frustrated too!” (Wu) In Act One, Wu mixes jingju performance vocabulary—including acrobatics, stylized gestures, a heavy emphasis on percussion, and movements of his sleeves and beard—with highly symbolic sets and costumes to represent not only this frustration with the apparent transience of jingju in Taiwan, but his understanding of the larger roles ephemerality and loss play in human life.

The audience first glimpses Lear standing in a ring of dim light. Because his face and figure remain dark, however, the effect of this light is oppressive rather than revelatory, constricting rather than illuminating. Furthermore, the circle of light on the stage is veined with a lacy pattern that evokes both tree roots and the veins of the eyes, in keeping with not only the topoi of seeing and blindness so central to King Lear, but also Lear’s simultaneously antagonistic and symbiotic relationship to the natural world, exemplified by the storm. For even as Lear rages against the storm, it is presented by both Shakespeare and Wu as a crucial part of his psyche, an observation that is also echoed by Oliver’s apt reduction of the play in “Slings and Arrows” to a relatively simple matter of a great actor and a tin sheet. Wu’s presentation of Lear on the heath in his first act allows him to draw an especially explicit comparison between Lear and the storm, as it is not until the audience hears the first clap of thunder that Lear fully emerges into the light. The storm must begin before the play can.

Along with the storm, the set for Act One emphasizes Lear’s vulnerability. Lear’s stage is arranged in a circle, with four large stone figures flanking the playing area. Variously headless or armless and in an antique style, these figures evoke both the civilization from which Lear has been outcast and the inevitable destruction of that civilization. In this evocation, Lear is Here echoes Emily Sun’s argument about the “limits of sovereignty” (Sun 21). Sun argues that what Lear wants—and this is Lear’s big mistake—is freedom from the political realm. However, for this to work out, there must be a political realm to begin with, and this requires that his daughters play the necessary parts. Cordelia’s “nothing” is destructive because it demolishes the knowable political realm in favor of an as-yet unknowable relationality, a connection between people in excess of the roles given to them by the state. King Lear thus calls upon the reader to imagine a world that is “always in the process of being created, always in excess of any kingdom or community conceived according to identifiable predicates of belonging” (Sun 77). In their ability to signify both civilization and its destruction, the statues that loom over Wu’s performance in Act One similarly call upon the audience to imagine society not as stasis, but flux.

This is further emphasized at the end of the act, as one by one each of the four statues fall into the performance space. Interestingly, the statues makes room for the second act’s more naturalistic set, which consists of large piles of rocks that evoke the cliffs of Dover and that will play a crucial part in Gloucester’s intended suicide. This relegation of naturalism to the second act, much of which takes place in the palaces of Goneril and Regan and not on the heath, seems odd, especially given the first act’s emphasis on the storm and Lear’s antagonistic relationship to nature. Jan Kott is helpful here; as he notes, “objects have now been raised [in what he calls the “modern theatre”] to the status of symbols of human fate, or situation, and perform a similar function to that played in Shakespeare by forest, storm, or eclipse of the sun” (Kott 134). Although built with the intention of durability, of all but immortalizing the figure depicted, stone statues, like human beings, are always already in a state of decay. In this way statues are particularly useful as signifiers not only for the fall of civilization but, as Kott argues, for human fate. Like the statues, Lear’s vision of political stasis will chip away—indeed, it already has, for Lear’s tribulations in the storm begin after his daughters have cast him out, just as Wu’s performance begins after he has lost his relationship with his acting master, a point which I will further discuss below. By including the statues in his first act, “The Play,” Wu thus gestures to both what has come before in the play text (Lear’s degradation in the apparently civilized realm now controlled by his daughters) and what will come after (the kingdom’s descent into chaos and Lear’s death). Importantly, though, this scene does not come after anything in Wu’s version. Rather, Lear’s exposure on the heath is both the before and after event in Lear is Here, a paradox that, by presenting Lear’s madness as the founding event of the play, emphasizes the extent to which trauma is an inherent element of change. With their missing arms and heads and their ability to act as symbols of both Lear’s outcast status and the inevitability of social collapse, the statues also emphasize the close relationship between transience and trauma.

Although Act One is largely nonverbal, Lear’s few songs and speeches reveal a keen awareness of the trauma of loss. One moment particularly stands out for its pathos. Throughout the play Wu uses his considerable skills as a physical performer to evoke not only Lear’s varied moods, but the stark differences between his moments of lucidity and madness. The movements of lucid Lear are purposeful and smooth. Although his hands shake, befitting a laosheng (old man) figure in the jingju tradition, lucid Lear tends to remain fairly stationary in the playing space, and the musicians match his stasis with sustained notes and chords.

Mad Lear, on the other hand, is often all frenetic energy, his quickly mincing steps and extravagant tossing of his beard and sleeves mirrored by the discordant, frantic percussive music.

Mad Lear can also be childish, however, and it is during one of these moments of simplicity that Lear betrays his keenest awareness of loss. Previous to this moment, Lear has killed a bird that was annoying him. This could have been a humorous moment; after all, Lear’s anger was precipitated by the bird’s biting him on the nose. Instead it is a terribly sad one, as the bird’s gentle song—a marked contrast to the tumultuous noise of the storm—is cut short by its death, leaving only a deafening silence. Shortly thereafter Lear slides into a state of childish simplicity. Taking mincing steps and assuming a shy smile and high, sing-song voice, Lear reminisces about his daughter’s childhood: “I, who favor the fair March, / Spy a blossom in the wild field. / Daddy picks a flower for the youngest daughter to wear in her hair. / I wish to see neither the flowers fade, nor the spring end. /  Yet, the flowers fade and the spring stays not…” In this, his first speech after killing the bird, Wu/Lear betrays a keen awareness of the transience inherent to both human and nonhuman life. Lear’s childlike state of mind, as well as his remembrance of his daughter as a child, reflects the inevitability of aging, while Lear’s evocation of the fading flowers and passing spring serves as a meditation on the mutability of the natural world.

Fittingly for a performance in the jingju tradition, Lear’s costume is an especially important conveyance for the production’s thematic content. This is particularly apparent near the end of the act, as

in full view of the audience, Wu transforms himself from the old Lear into a Taiwanese jingju actor, removing his headdress and opera beard to reveal the painted face pattern denoting a jingju combatant male role. He also takes off his costume to reveal his undercoat. While this undercoat is part of the costume, it is never revealed onstage. It supports the heavy costume of a combatant male role. By removing the headdress and revealing what is underneath the costume, Wu stages the theater-making process in reverse. (Huang 222)

This meta-theatricality is an important part of the autobiographical story Wu is trying to tell. As Wu has noted in his stage bill and in several interviews, he was especially attracted to King Lear because of the issues it raises about fatherhood, concerns that, for Wu, also intersect with his relationship to the theater. Having lost his biological father at a young age, Wu found a surrogate father figure in his acting teacher, Master Zhou Zhengrong, who trained him in the combatant male role type (wusheng) of jingju. As Wu became a better-known performer, however, he found himself engaging in conflict with Master Zhou. Following one particularly heated exchange, Master Zhou refused to acknowledge Wu as a pupil, an estrangement that existed even upon Master Zhou’s death and that is reflected in Wu’s attitude towards the trappings of his performance of Lear.

Initially Wu throws the robe and undercoat down onto the floor in a spurt of anger, apparently rejecting the power that the character of Lear has had over him. In doing so, I argue, Wu is also rejecting his master, who he has frequently compared to Lear. Soon, however, Wu’s mood turns more contemplative. Having discarded his clothes in anger, he folds them reverentially, and for quite a while he carries the beard and wig, carefully positioning them so they continue to form the silhouette of a face. In a scene reminiscent of Hamlet in the graveyard, Wu addresses this silhouette as though it were a mirror, asking both himself and the audience, “Where is Lear?” Huang notes that “by addressing the costumes of Lear, Wu stages the king as two bodies, that of a fictional character and that of a human performer representing that character, juxtaposed to reveal the performer in search of an identity” (Huang 223). While this splitting of identity across actor and character reflects Wu’s conflicted feelings towards his late master, I would argue that it also serves to highlight the fundamentally ephemeral nature of the stage. Wu’s Lear is a powerfully realized character while embodied, but at the end of the act the audience is left only with a pile of clothes, the closest thing in the performance to a representation of Lear’s death. Lear’s mortality is in sharp contrast with Wu’s insistence on stasis: “I am back,” he says. “I’m still I that was, I that am, and I that shall be!” Given the play’s relentless emphasis on transience, such an announcement plays as profoundly defiant: in spite of the inevitability of plays to end, characters to die, and relationships to fade, the actor know as Wu Hsing-Kuo continues. Wu, like Lear, is here.

And yet this defiance falters, as, according to Steve Mentz, its source text dictates that it must:

Juxtaposing the desire of the self to maintain its identity against the natural world’s stubborn exteriority, refusal to be incorporated, and dynamic re-inscription and violation of bodily boundaries, King Lear suggests that all systems of natural order—from pastoral utopianism to homeostatic constancy—can and will become unstable. Inside this storm-filled world, the play offers clarity of vision in place of sustainable hope. (141)

Wu’s similar approach to the myth of permanence is revealed by play’s end, as a subdued Wu gives in to the unavoidable mutability of the world: “Lonely and quiet, I look coldly at the moon / That rises, sets, waxes and wanes.” Repeated twice, this final statement asserts the paradoxical fact, expressed so well in the old adage, that there is nothing permanent except change, that all life is inherently ephemeral. Wu speaks these words while he is being raised above the stage and into the space of storms and weather. Significantly, the stone statues of the first act, perhaps the play’s most evocative metaphor for instability, rise with him.

 

Works Cited

Huang, Alex. Chinese Shakespeares: Two Centuries of Cultural Exchange. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009.

Kott, Jan.Shakespeare Our Contemporary. Trans. Boleslaw Taborski. New York: Doubleday & Company, 1966.

Mentz, Steve. “Strange Weather in King Lear.” Shakespeare 6.2 (2010), 139-152.

Spencer, David. “Slings and Arrows.” Aisle Say TV. No date. Web. 17 April 2012.

Wu Hsing-Kuo in interview with Joyce McMillan. “EIF 2011 – Interview with Wu Hsing-Kuo, the solo King Lear.” Joyce McMillan Online. March 2011. Web. 17 April 2012.

Shakespeare in Europe: Introduction

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

For centuries, Shakespeare’s plays have been at the heart of European culture. Owing to their canonical status in European drama and theatre, they have been used both to reflect on and to advance aesthetic, social and political transformations in Europe. Over time, they have served to develop theatrical and cultural patterns, to stimulate social, political and historical changes, to form the notion of nationhood in individual countries, and to shape a sense of common European identity. (more…)

Shakespeare in Brazil: Introduction

Saturday, November 20th, 2010

Brazil speaks the language of Prospero, but speaks it with a difference; or rather, with many differences. Since the beginning of the nineteenth century, Brazilians have been able to attend performances of Shakespeare’s plays produced either by European theatrical companies visiting Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo on their way to Buenos Aires and New York, or by the founder of Brazilian theater, the great actor João Caetano (1808-1863); in both cases, however, the texts performed were melodramatic adaptations of Shakespeare by Jean-François Ducis (1733-1816), Alfred de Vigny (1797-1863) and Albois.

A hundred years later, the scene has completely changed: Shakespeare is performed throughout Brazil by Brazilian troupes; the text has been translated from the English original, without the mediation of French culture which dominated 19th C Brazilian culture.

Recent theatrical productions are unique because they are not afeard to transpose the text to their own cultural realities, appropriating Shakespeare, mixing the plays with Brazilian matter, coloring them with sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not. The voices of the schools of samba, of the circus, of street theater, the harsh reality of the favelas, the twangling berimbaus and the martial dance of the capoeira from Bahia, the traditional culture of Minas Gerais, are among the many riches ready to drop new accents upon the plays. However, as Brazil is a country of continental size, Shakespeare can and is often recreated in such diverse ways that it becomes almost impossible to establish what a Brazilian Shakespeare would be.

1835, First Performances by Brazilian Troupes

As mentioned above, the history of the performance of Shakespeare’s plays in Brazil started with the mediation of French culture which dominated the culture of Portugal and Brazil during the times of the colony.

The very first Brazilian Shakespearean performances by João Caetano occurred as early as 1835 and were attempts at a Brazilian performance free from French influence: Hamlet was enacted in the cities of Niterói and Rio de Janeiro, employing a Brazilian translation by Oliveira e Silva which was done from the original English text. The play was not well received by the public; according to João Caetano, this was so because the public was not ready for Shakespeare, being used to melodramas instead.  Thus, when five years later, in 1840, João Caetano tried Hamlet one more time, he turned to the French adaptation of Jean-François Ducis which transformed the tragedy into a melodrama.

All but the very first Hamlet João Caetano performed were translations of French adaptations of Shakespeare.  In 1838, Joao Caetano mounted Shylock or the Terrible Vengeance of a Jew, based on an adaptation by Albois. In 1838, he interpreted Otelo, his greatest shakespearean role, which he would go back to 26 times between 1837 and 1860; again, Caetano’s Otelo, was a translation of Vigny’s adaptation by Gonçalves de Magalhães (1811-1882).

Important Brazilian poets, writers and intellectuals, such as Gonçalves Dias, Álvares de Azevedo, Machado de Assis and Joaquim Nabuco, greatly criticized the interference of the French adaptations of Shakespeare, daring to speak against the then most famous actor. For example, in a chronicle published in Semana Ilustrada, on 25 of June, 1871, Machado de Assis wrote, after attending a performance of Othello by Rossi: “Our João Caetano, who was a genius, performed three of these tragedies [by Shakespeare], and managed to brilliantly give them the life that  Ducis had taken away from them. “( ASSIS, Machado de. Semana Ilustrada, 25 de junho de 1871. p. 4.380). (check image of Machado de Assis)

But the complaints of the intellectuals did not affect the life of the theatre. Actors continued to perform Shakespeare adapted and sugared to suit the audience’s demands; João Caetano’s choices for his texts remained aligned with the public taste for the “French Shakespeare” they were accustomed to.  Throughout his career, Caetano continued to perform Shakespeare via Ducis  or via the versions by Alfred de Vigny.

1871 Onward, European Troupes Performing in Brazil

Apart from Caetano’s productions, no other Brazilian actor or company performed Shakespeare for almost a century. The Shakespearean scene was occupied solely by the European theatrical companies that toured Brazil. One such company was the Italian Ernesto Rossi’s (1827-1896) (image), which were at the Theatro Lyrico Fluminense in Niterói in 1871, presenting, among other tragedies, Othello, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and Macbeth. Differently from the Shakespearean melodramatic adaptations presented by Caetano, Rossi’s plays were translated from the English original, which probably explains why the famous Rossi was coldly received by the Brazilian public.

Another famous Italian actor who visited Brazil at about the same time as Rossi was Tommaso Salvini (1829-1915) (image). Throughout the world, Salvini was very much admired as a great tragic actor; he played Othello in Italian to special audiences composed of actors, both in London and New York. The folklore holds that the performance in New York was specially successful as the actor was greatly applauded even though he played in Italian while the rest of the crew spoke in English.(check images of Rossi and Salvini)

From 1871 to the end of the century, many European, mostly Italian, but also Spanish and Portuguese companies visited Rio de Janeiro; towards the end of the century, European companies visited São Paulo and Porto Alegre as well. Among famous interpreters, it is worth mentioning the visits of the Italian Giacinta Pezanna Gualtieri, in 1882, who played Hamlet; Sarah Bernhardt, in 1905, also playing Hamlet; Constant Conquelin Ainé, in 1907, playing The Taming of the Shrew; and Gabriel Trabulsi, in 1918, playing Hamlet. World War I interrupted the visits from European companies to Brazil, which accounts for the absence of Shakespeare from the Brazilian stages for almost half a century.

From the mid-twenties onwards, European companies came back, touring Brazil once more:  in 1924 and 1931, Ermete Zacconi (1857-1948) visited Brazil; in 1931, actor Alexander Moissi (1879-1935) brought his Hamlet; in 1947, Jacob Ben-Ami (1890-1977) also brought his  Hamlet; in 1950,  Madeleine Renaud (1900-1994) and Jean-Louis Barrault (1919-1994) bought their Hamlet; in 1954, Il Piccolo de Milan brought  Julius Cesaer; in 1958, the Teatro Stabile di Genoa, brought Measure for Measure. In 1964, for the centenary of Shakespeare, Ralph Richardson (1902-1983) and  Barbara Jefford (1930-) came to the Teatro Municipal do Rio de Janeiro with Midsummer’s Night Dream and The Merchant of Venice to great acclaim.

1938 Onward, Resurgence of Shakespeare

In 1938, Shakespeare was back onstage, thanks to the efforts of the Brazilian poet and diplomat Paschoal Carlos Magno (1906-1980). With the Teatro do Estudante do Brasil (TEB), Magno produced in 1938 a very successful Romeo and Juliet; in 1942, As you like it; and in 1948, a romantic Hamlet, directed by Hoffmann Harnisch and which launched the carreers of Sérgio Cardoso (1925-1972), Maria Fernanda (1928-) and Sérgio Britto (1923-) and changed completely the face of Shakespeare on Brazilian stges. Harnisch and Cardoso’s Hamlet is defintely a landmark in Brazilian Shakespeare. Sergio Cardoso was then a law student, intending to be a diplomat; after the success of Hamlet, he dedicated himself entirely to the theatre and television.

Shakespeare in the Arab World: Introduction

Monday, October 18th, 2010

Shakespeare adaptations have been a staple of the modern Arab theatre since the late 19th century.  They respond to a global kaleidoscope of international sources and models: not only British texts but also French plays, Italian operas, German novels and literary criticism, Soviet films, and American productions and adaptations.  Most Shakespeare-based works are in standard Arabic, the formal language used by intellectuals for literary and media writing throughout the Arab world.  But some Shakespeare adaptations are in colloquial Arabic, and a few, such as the Moroccan Nabyl Lahlou’s Ophelie N’est Pas Morte (1969) and the Anglo-Kuwaiti Sulayman Al-Bassam’s The Al Hamlet Summit (2002), were originally written in French or English.  Thus it is more accurate to refer to “Arab” rather than “Arabic” Shakespeares.

The first Arab encounter with Shakespeare was through the Egyptian stage, where Syrian-Lebanese immigrants, many knowing little English, retooled French translations of the plays to please Cairo’s emerging middle class.  The point was not to produce literature for reading but to fill theatres.  Najib al-Haddad (1867-99) adapted Romeo and Juliet around 1892 as a melodrama, The Martyrs of Love (Shuhada al-gharam).  Tanyus ʻAbdu’s (1869-1926) French-based adaptation of Hamlet (1901, published 1902) was based on the French adaptation by Alexandre Dumas père [read English translation], and like its source it ended happily: Hamlet killed Claudius, accepted the Ghost’s blessing, and took the throne.  Both The Martyrs of Love and Hamlet were musicals starring Quran-reciter-turned-popular-singer Shaykh Salama Hijazi (1852-1917), with the soliloquies replaced by singable arias.  The first known Othello adaptation, thought to be by ʻAbdu as well, was titled Khayal al-rijal (The Wiles of Men, performed 1898, published 1910).

In the century since then, a vast variety of directors and adapters in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, and other Arab countries have produced versions of Shakespeare’s plays to speak to their own and audiences and circumstances.  Othello has been adapted as a prooftext about Orientalism or a tragedy about gender violence.  Hamlet has been played as a Che Guevara in doublet-and-hose, his “To be or not to be” interpreted as a cry for justice in what many theatre-makers see as rotten states and out-of-joint times [see lecture on this].   Julius Caesar, while rarely produced, has recurred frequently in political discussions about despotism and democracy. The Merchant of Venice has not escaped polemical appropriation by various sides of the debate about Zionism’s role in the Middle East.  Romeo and Juliet has been staged as a demonstration of the dangers of blood feuds and arranged marriages.  Taking a different approach, a 1994 Romeo and Juliet production in East Jerusalem (co-directed by the Israeli Eran Baniel and the Palestinian Fouad Awad) had the Capulets played by Israeli Jewish actors speaking Hebrew and their rivals the Montagues played by Palestinian actors speaking Arabic.

Please be patient, as the video portion of this site is still under construction.  We hope it can eventually give you some idea of the diversity and richness of Arab Shakespeare.


Shakespeare in Asia: Introduction

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

Co-authored by project co-founders and co-directors Alexander Huang and Peter Donaldson

While Shakespeare and Asia have been connected on stage and screen for centuries, Asia-related performances in Asia, the Americas, and Europe are currently experiencing an exciting new wave of creativity. Such encounters have generated extraordinary artistic and intellectual energy, leading to the transformation of traditions that has worked in both directions at once.

The center of creativity in Shakespeare performance is shifting from Europe and the U.S. to Asia, where directors such as Ninagawa Yukio, Suzuki Tadashi, Ong Keng Sen, Wu Hsing-kuo, and many others experiment with combinations of traditional and contemporary theatre, new strategies for working across languages and genres, new ways of reaching diverse audiences.

These works are widely recognized as among the most innovative and distinguished in the world; they are changing how we understand Shakespeare, serving as a forum for theatre artists to deal with such contemporary questions as national and Asian identity, and reshaping debates about the relation of East and West.

Shakespeare in India: Introduction

Saturday, March 20th, 2010

That Shakespeare came to India with colonialism is well know. What is less known and not readily acknowledged, even in India, is that Shakespeare was first introduced to India as an entertainer. His plays are known to have been first performed, in English for the diversion of European traders in Calcutta and Bombay around 1775, but by the 1850s they are beginning to be performed in translation in the Indian languages. While the study of the English Language and Shakespeare was an imperial imposition, the performance of Shakespeare was not, and the stage forms a vital part of this long history of intercultural engagement.

This interaction between Shakespeare and India can be charted via five main tendencies: the English language Shakespeare, the localized Shakespeare, the universalized Shakespeare, the indigenised Shakespeare and the post-colonial Shakespeare.

  • The earliest dramatisations of Shakespeare by Indians were of scenes in schools and colleges. 1822 is the first such known performance, at Hindu College, Calcutta. It initiated a tradition which had continued to this day, of the performance in English by Indians as part of the English language learning exercise.
  • The earliest performances, in translation, were usually adaptations ranging from a simple change of names to an interpolation of character and action, along with song and dance, and may be seen as politic or appropriations, making the foreign one’s own.
  • This was followed by a period of faithful performances, with few or no adaptive changes, with western costume and mise en scene, which in the context of colonialism, was another kind of mastering of the master text, a universalizing of its themes and ideas.
  • Later, particularly after independence in 1947, Shakespeare’s plays were co-opted in the search for identity. They were transposed into various indigenous theatre forms as part of the “back to the roots” movement in theatre and helped to forge a new performative idiom while giving an added respectability and stability to the traditional forms.
  • From the nineties onwards, in the increasingly post-colonial world, Indians have felt freer to approach Shakespeare. There is no longer the need to ‘adapt,’ rather they can make bold to ‘play’ around with Shakespeare’s text, with what was once the colonial book, and deconstruct it for their own needs.

We hope you enjoy viewing the Indian productions in this archive.

United Kingdom & North America – Introduction

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

This archive provides global, regional, and national portals to Shakespeare productions within a federated archive; you can view and study productions within and across cultures. As we build the archive, we have focused on performance records and videos from the Arab World, Asia, Brazil, and India.

This archive is intended to promote cross-cultural understanding and serve as a core resource for students, teachers, and researchers. We have included videos from a select number of performances produced in the United Kingdom and North America for comparison purposes, though these videos are so widely available elsewhere that we have focused instead on other cultures, though we are delighted to include them here as well.