Fete: The ‘Shakespeare Utsavam' at Vellur Government Higher Secondary School near Payyannur showcased how history works in Shakespearean theatre.

Shakespeare has been in the State school syllabus for the past few years and students study some of his works as mere stories. The students of a school in the rural part of Kannur district, however, were given a taste of the diversity and subtlety of Shakesperean theatre.

The Vellur Government Higher Secondary School near Payyannur offered its students a unique experience of understanding how history works in Shakespearean theatre. Vellur, where drama is an active culture with its half-a-dozen arts clubs and a library that has won the best rural library award this year, set a perfect milieu for the three-day ‘Shakespeare Utsavam' that was organised by the school in January.

Objectives

As the organisers pointed out, creative learning and extended classroom are the objectives of conducting the Shakespeare fete in the school. “It is an attempt to liberate Shakespeare from the passivity of classroom teaching and give the students and all those who are interested in Shakespeare a feel of the world of Shakespearean theatre,” says Malayalam writer E.P. Rajagopalan, who is also a teacher in the school. “No importance is given to the psyche of the students while teaching Shakespeare in the classroom,” he adds.

The naming of ‘Shakespeare Utsavam' was also an innovation in creative learning as it links the mother tongue and English. The festival started with the planting of a Christmas tree that the Elizabethan bard often refers to in his works, and it was named ‘Shakespeare tree.' The inaugural session began with the rendering of the famous lines from ‘As You Like It': ‘All the world's a stage/ And all the men and women merely players/ They have their exits and their entrances.'

The three-dimensional Shakespeare brooding under a green tree was the first spectacle that greeted visitors to an exhibition organised as part of the fete. A hundred posters were arranged with biographical details and a comprehensive history of Shakespearean plays, sonnets and other poems. The posters also carried a detailed account of the various critical approaches to the playwright. Each poster was also supplemented by visual data. The exhibition also presented a collection of rare information about the playwright's times and his posthumous life in academia and culture. The posters were designed by M.V. Dhanesan and V.P. Sukumaran.

One of the major attractions of the fete was the puppet theatre performances. Thirty-six major scenes from six Shakespeare plays – ‘The Merchant of Venice,' ‘King Lear,' ‘Othello' and ‘The Tempest,' ‘Macbeth' and ‘Julius Caeser,' which are included in the present Kerala syllabus, were staged. There were more than 120 puppets and each scene was designed with a view to make the narrative and emotional content more appealing. Pramod Aduthila, teachers and students worked on the show. The school claims to have the biggest puppet museum among the schools in the State.

Five plays

Five plays were also staged during the festival. The students of the school presented ‘The Merchant of Venice' in Malayalam, ‘Othello' in Sanskrit and 'Tempest' in English. ‘The Merchant of Venice' was presented as a comedy, while ‘Othello' was action-packed. ‘The Tempest' had romance mixed with fantasy. All the three plays were directed by C.K. Babu Annur, while ‘Julius Caesar' and ‘Macbeth' were performed by Palakkad-based Natyasastra and directed by Narippatta Raju. A seminar on ‘Shakespeare experience' was also held as part of the festival. Students presented papers and participated in ‘The Sonnet evening' programme, in which poets recited the sonnets and their Malayalam translations. A demonstration class on ‘Shakespeare in the conventional college classroom' and a speech on ‘History and Shakespeare' were also conducted as part of the festival.