Annual Grant Program Report – 2016 World Shakespeare Congress in Stratford-upon-Avon and London

Research Grant Recipient: Professor Peter Holbrook

Research Grant awarded in 2016.

Via a research grant to the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, The University of Queensland, nine scholars from the Asia-Pacific region received bursaries of GBP 500 to assist in covering costs associated with attending the 2016 World Shakespeare Congress in Stratford-upon-Avon and London that took place from 31 July to 6 August 2016. Further information about the Congress and the programme can be found HERE.

The recipients were:

  • Julie Celine Ick, The University of the Philippines, Philippines
  • Victoria Bladen, University of Queensland, Australia
  • Rita Banerjee, Jawaharlal Nehru University, India
  • Danni Dai, Wuhan University, China
  • Tianhu Hao, Peking University, China
  • Poonam Trivedi, Delhi University, India
  • Sukanta Chaudhuri, Jadavpur University, India
  • Abha Singh, University of Delhi, India
  • Supriya Chaudhuri, Jadavpur University, India

Recipients were asked to submit a short statement in response to the question “Why does Shakespeare matter now in your country?”


Why Shakespeare matters now in Australia

Victoria Bladen, The University of Queensland, Australia

Shakespeare has been of central importance to Australian cultural life for over two centuries. Bill sailed south with the First Fleet in the late eighteenth century as part of the rich British inheritance Australia gained, adding to the ancient traditions of indigenous culture. Recently we have seen the productive intersection of these different facets of Australian cultural life, with a wonderful indigenous production of King Lear The Shadow King (dir. Michael Kantor and co-creator Tom E. Lewis) – where Shakespeare’s language is in dialogue with various indigenous languages.

Shakespeare is experienced by school children and tertiary students as part of the Australian humanities curricula, and by audiences of all ages through the extensive engagement with Shakespeare in Australian theatre, whether via professional companies such as the Bell Shakespeare company, or through the summer programmes around the country of Shakespeare in the Park. Australian directors, such as Justin Kurzel, Baz Luhrmann, and Geoffrey Wright, have been internationally recognised as making significant contributions to Shakespeare on screen. Furthermore, Australian scholars contribute to the ongoing international project of exploring Shakespeare, building networks through the Australian and New Zealand Shakespeare Association and via major international conferences such as the World Shakespeare Congress (hosted in Brisbane in 2006).

Australia is a multi-cultural country that embraces people from a diverse range of backgrounds. Perhaps the most vital aspect we can learn from Shakespeare’s work is the importance of hearing the voices of others, and of learning to view life from a variety of perspectives. These core Shakespearean values will contribute to building a tolerant, democratic country that respects and values difference in the face of global challenges.

I would like to thank the EU Centre for providing this generous sponsorship, which will enable me to attend the 2016 World Shakespeare Congress. I will be acknowledging their support, and that of the International Shakespeare Association, in a publication that will result from the seminar I co-convened at the Congress, ‘Shakespeare’s Tragedies on Screen: The Case of King Lear’ (see the photo below) with two French scholars, Prof Sarah Hatchuel (University of Le Havre) and Prof Nathalie Vienne-Guerrin (University of Montpellier). The seminar was very stimulating and we had an excellent discussion on the papers submitted. The papers will be developed into a volume which is going to be published by Cambridge University Press as part of the Shakespeare on Screen series with CUP.


Why Shakespeare matters now in China

Danni Dai, Wuhan University, China

Shakespeare belongs to the world.

As a college teacher, I find it extremely helpful to make use of Shakespeare in my teaching. In my drama course, every time I teach Shakespeare and his plays, my students are always eager to take part in the class and to engage with Shakespeare’s language—an experience which, in their words, can influence their whole lives. Those languages are full of wisdom, philosophy and theories of human life. Nowadays, when my old students come back to the university, they always recall their time learning Shakespeare, and the ways in which his plays enriched their knowledge and their lives.

As for the whole society, people in China nowadays pay more attention to leisure activities. Shakespeare, at this point, plays an important role in everyday life. Take my university as an example: Wuhan University Shakespeare Drama Club has a history of over 60 years. Students learn English from Shakespeare, and put Shakespeare on stage in their own language. In this way, Chinese and Western cultures can be woven together and communicate with each other, which is of great help in these young people’s future lives. Not only university students but also Chinese people all over the whole country now pay more and more attention to improving their spiritual lives, and Shakespeare can be one of the best options on stage and in their leisure readings.

Why Shakespeare matters now in India

Abha Singh, University of Delhi, India

Shakespeare invaded India in the wake of political annexation of this land by the British, and his vogue at the outset was due mainly to British political supremacy. But, in the end, Shakespeare’s hold on the mind of India was independent of any political influence—was rather owing to the intrinsic merit of his works, which the Indian people embraced with full enthusiasm. Shakespeare became popular in India because it is a country with diverse languages and literary cultures that could assimilate Shakespeare in various ways. Shakespeare has been a constant stimulus to Indian literature and culture, and his uptake in books, translations, film adaptations, and regional dance forms has been widely assessed by scholars. The need to adapt Shakespeare for “the common man” led to the translation and localisation of Shakespeare in India, and recent Indian film adaptations of Shakespeare include Omkara (Othello), Maqbul (Macbeth), Haider (Hamlet), and Ramleela (Romeo and Juliet). It is universally accepted that Shakespeare is not of an age but of all ages, not of one country but of all countries.

Why Shakespeare matters now in India

Sukanta Chaudhuri, Jadavpur University, India

India has the longest engagement with Shakespeare of any non-anglophone country, so Shakespeare is important here for a number of reasons. My own state of Bengal was perhaps the single most important region where this engagement commenced.

Shakespeare was a major factor in the rise of Western-style theatre in the late nineteenth century. Shakespearean drama shared many features with the traditional jatra or popular theatre of Bengal, and the two melded in a new theatre with greater poetic and psychological input alongside stirring action. Performance models have changed radically, but Shakespeare is still a presence on the Bengali stage. In the last month alone, I saw adaptations of Twelfth Night (set in Mumbai) and Romeo and Juliet, plus a new filmed adaptation of the latter set in today’s Kolkata.

Secondly, Shakespeare has contributed to a new literary language even outside the drama. Interestingly, this was less apparent in earlier times, but became prominent in the early Modernist poets in the mid-twentieth century, and continues to this day. I have dealt with this matter in a chapter on ‘Shakespeare and Poetry’ in the collection Shakespeare’s Creative Legacies (published in 2016 by Arden Shakespeare).

This impact on poetic language means, further, that Shakespeare has been a major force in the growth of the English language in India. He has featured in academic curricula for two centuries, thereby contributing to the formation of the modern Indian sensibility. It is partly because of Shakespeare that, today, India can interact productively with the world.

Why Shakespeare matters now in India

Rita Banerjee, Jawaharlal Nehru University, India

In today’s India, Shakespeare’s plays appeal to us both as classroom texts and as popular performances, sometimes staged or narrated even among a barely literate audience.

Productions vary from conventional stage reproductions of the original texts to adaptations on stage, in Bollywood films, and in indigenous art forms. The adaptations seek to negotiate
with the 400-year-old, culturally different texts and to re-create their meanings in light of our experience in present-day India, with its specific social, political and economic conditions. For example, adaptations of Hamlet and Macbeth create oppressive spaces under police surveillance, like Kashmir today, or Calcutta during the Naxalbari uprisings, or even India during the “Emergency” in the seventies, thereby dramatizing the “time” which “is out of joint”. Productions of Othello present a casteist and patriarchal India. The plays’ appeal lies in their capacity to resonate in the context of a culturally different present, their “iterability”, as Jacques Derrida says, “which both puts down roots in the unity of a context and immediately opens this non-saturable context onto a recontextualization”.

Moreover, the popularity of the translated texts enables appropriation of Shakespeare by indigenous art forms with their distinct formal specificities. For example, Kathakali adaptations succeed in reproducing Shakespeare within the more static limits of a stylized dance-drama form, rotating around the binaries of good and evil. Experimentation leads to indigenization of the texts and development of the theatrical form, promoting a productive encounter between East and West and an invigorating expansion of the identities of both.

Why Shakespeare matters now in India

Supriya Chaudhuri, Jadavpur University, India

My essay, “Remembering Shakespeare in India”, published in Celebrating Shakespeare: Commemoration and Cultural Memory, edited by Coppélia Kahn and Clara Calvo (Cambridge University Press, 2016), indicates the depth and extent of Shakespeare studies in India from the late eighteenth century onwards. In my conclusion there, I mention the new, postmodern revival of Shakespeare on stage and on screen in India. At least six new adaptations of Shakespeare plays, from Macbeth to Twelfth Night, have been staged in Kolkata theatres within the past year. This includes an extremely popular Bengali adaptation of Twelfth Night under the title Mumbai Nights by the theatre professional Bratya Basu in 2015, running to packed houses at the Minerva Theatre in Kolkata, which set Shakespeare’s play amidst the chaos of gang rivalry in present-day Mumbai. On screen, Vishal Bhardwaj’s third Shakespeare film Haider, placing Hamlet against separatist violence and questions of political legitimacy in Kashmir, was released in 2014. The latest addition to an extensive engagement with Shakespeare by Indian film directors is Aparna Sen’s Arshinagar (2016), based on Romeo and Juliet, and using a stunning mix of performance styles – jatra, baul, dance, contemporary rock, theatre and film – to produce a wholly postmodern re-visioning of Shakespeare’s tragedy in the context of Hindu-Muslim conflict. The title, arshinagar (“city of mirrors”) refers to a famous song by the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century mystic, Lalan Fakir. It could describe how Shakespearean drama, refracted through the popular imagination in India from the nineteenth century onwards, has reflected political, social, and human concerns.

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