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Shakespeare: Timeless talking point

K Ayyappa Panicker is a sought after academician for English studies in Kerala, again also undoubtedly the doyen of new wave Malayalam poetry.

Therefore, it is with great anticipation that one goes to attend his talks and read through his articles. In the recent talk under the auspices of Ernakulam Public Library, the master

talked on The Universality of Shakespeare (Shakespearude


Mr Panicker marked off the talk with the comment that the critics often affirm that there is no such factor as universality in a work of literature and the works are most relevant in their own times, bearing the stamp of the then life, culture, politics and attitude. To this the speaker shuttled off and on during the later course of his talk.

Mr Panicker had grasped the pulse of the audience and his attempt was more to entertain the superficial Shakespeare enthusiast. During the talk, he took up the issue of how Shakespeare is a saleable commodity in Europe and how his works were distorted in new attempts at uniqueness.

The speaker in brief traced the life of Shakespeare, the dates to whose birth and death are none too concrete. The Bard of Avon, who dropped out from High School, played his small stint as a keeper of horses outside theatres, making his way up to become a playwright of excellence.

Most of his plays were written in haste (at times not to be read and corrected a second time), talking on small things leading to contemplation on bigger truths. It is not the authenticity of the plots, a lot many of which are leased from other writers and history, but his craft in handling the same thereby taking the minds of the readers to heights of emotion.

Mr Panicker therefore stressed on Shakespeare in our time, a fact that is most significant, how it makes him our contemporary. Thus the studies and critiques on Shakespeare sometimes carry more weight, and are harsher, stronger and more complex than the master's own works.

In this respect there is a whole industry that thrives on Shakespeare, a whole lot of exports from England, and America suiting the Shakespeare product to their own times and needs.

Mr Panicker remembered how he saw all the 37 plays of Shakespeare presented in London as Shakespeare in 93 minutes.

Some plays were just in mention, whereas small episodes were hastily depicted from main plays like Hamlet. Mr Panicker's musings reminded one of the new movie versions of Shakespeare, as in Romeo going in a motor bike to the Capulet ball in jeans and leather jacket. These are practices in the name of being different when nothing more or new is left to be said.

Mr Panicker pointed out that the cultures in other countries have had their own versions and interpretations of Shakespeare, for instance Pasternak's translations of Shakespeare have helped the Russians to see Shakespeare as their own rather than as an alien entity.

The characters were those that the people could easily relate to. On the contrary, Indians have been mostly stand offish in this matter.

The speaker seemed to have ignored attempts in Kathakali to adapt King Lear and other plays. The speaker remarked that not many world acclaimed Shakespearean critics are Indians.

The meat of the talk came in the final ten or fifteen minutes and Mr Panikker took a quick ride. The main attributes for Shakespeare's universality were cited thus. They touch the deep abyss of the human psyche. Many of his characters have been put to scientific psychoanalysis in the modern times. The next reason for his timeless popularity is his farsightedness and vision.

Furthermore, the multiplicity of characters from all walks of life, and all possibilities are explored in conceiving these characters, that they are all universal. There can be Kerala editions and Kochi editions to an Iago or a Shylock.

Lastly, a language that touches the heart, that comes closest to being poetic. Even his monologues stand on their own in their sublime best.

The speaker did not bother to quote or even mention the most celebrated of these like Prospero's epilogue to the masque, Cleopatra's last words, the crispest sayings of Beatrice and Touchstone, the passion of Lear, the reveries of Hamlet; each of them being the most appropriate expression of thought.

Further, Shakespeare, though to the persistent displeasure of some good English critics, coined words with the utmost freedom, merely observing sound analogy, borrowing lavishly from other languages. He shows no preference for English over Latin vocabulary nor any the other way. And the advantages offered by this contrast is truly noteworthy.

Shakespeare remains the most celebrated literary figure in class rooms and seminars, yet there have been few attempts to embrace him as our own, to see his characters as types of ourselves.


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