Written over 400 years ago, Shakespeare’s plays are read with pleasure, continue to be performed and delight audiences across the globe.
In a session entitled The Global Shakespeare at the Jaipur Literature Festival on Thursday, Christopher Ricks, Warren Professor of Humanities at Boston University and a world-renowned authority on the Bard, shared the stage with theatre Director Tim Supple and Elif Batuman, Turkish writer, author Anjum Hassan and Chandrahas Chaudhury. They all discussed the popularity and relevance of Shakespeare. The session was moderated by critic Supriya Nair.
Ricks started the ball rolling saying that the modernity of Shakespeare also lay in the fact that it spawned creative criticism that continues to resonate amid contemporary poets, playwrights and novelists. He also particularly cited the case of T.S Eliot’s Coriolanus and the work of Ezra Pound.
In Anjum Hasan’s Neti Neti, a character similar to that of Hamlet retreats from life in a way reflecting the behaviour of the young prince of Denmark four centuries ago. Indians fell very connected to the contemporary dilemmas they find in Shakespeare’s plays because they match the supernatural that is so abounds in our daily lives.
The participants agreed that in India both the performers and the audiences feel connected to stories, the characters and the themes and although Shakespeare is often shown in modern garb in the West, in India his themes and characters remain very much part of the local lore.
Ricks further pointed out that Shakespeare stands mid-way between the ritualistic dramas of ancient classical theatre and the psychological progression of his characters such as Hamlet, King Lear, Titania which has an immediate resonance and echo for contemporary audiences and performances across the globe.
Tim Supple, who has directed a multi-lingual Midsummer Night’s Dream with performers coming from many different states in India, working from an exact translation and not an adaptation of the text has “unlocked the dream and the magic, and let loose the contemporaneity of its stories such as Titania messing with the human world. Lovers, Professor Supple said, in Shakespeare, run away into the forest in a much more earthy way than one would find in Bollywood films.
Rehearsing in a village in close to Pondicherry in the middle of nowhere, in front of villagers, Auroville intellectuals, middle class citizens brought back the diversity of Shakespeare’s original audiences during his time, Professor Supple recalled.