September 19, 2020

‘Shakespeare’s meant to be heard’

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Romeo-and-juliet-DVDcoverFrom The Times of India

BANGALORE: We’ve been unfair to William Shakespeare. Our academic system has made the works of this fun-loving master of wordplay into a boring read.

That’s the considered view of Jonathan Gil Harris, professor of English, Ashoka University and president of Shakespeare Society of India. He told TOI here on Friday that to really know Shakespeare, one should listen to his works, preferably in a Caribbean accent, not read them. Excerpts:

Listen to Shakespeare and not read him! Why?

Shakespeare’s writings were meant for theatre, not reading. They had the magical power of language that moved people who heard it. When we read it, we lose the acoustic dimension of the writing. The rhythms he used aroused curiosity in the audience and his wordplay was sublime. For example, the lines of the Prince of Morocco in The Merchant of Venice, were filled with ‘s’ and ‘p’ making the actor performing the role spit often. It adds to the character, which we don’t get when you look at ink on a page.

The Caribbean accent is closest to Shakespeare’s accent…

As far as linguistic historians can tell, English spoken in the Caribbean is closest to language spoken by the lower middle class people of London during his time. These people were sent to the Caribbean, from whom the natives learned English.

But Shakespeare is associated with Victorian English…

Over the years, Shakespeare moved from being popular culture for the masses to something refined for the higher classes. And so the accent used became very Victorian, which meant we didn’t understand most of it.

Why is learning Shakespeare boring?

The way Shakespeare is taught is most unimaginative and uninspiring. It’s just producing generations of people who have read Shakespeare. His works are read like a novel, which doesn’t make sense.

What changes do we need?

The colonial legacy of projecting Shakespeare as the pinnacle of English literature and considering it sacrosanct is forced on us. Those teaching Shakespeare are reverent towards his work, whereas they should have fun. Understanding Shakespeare shouldn’t be about understanding the right interpretation, because there is no right interpretation. For me, the best version of The Comedy of Errors was an American rap version. We should adapt and experiment with his work.

How do you look at Hindi adaptations of Shakespeare?

When I compare Vishal Bharadwaj’s first adaptation of Shakespeare Maqbool (Macbeth) to his second Omkara (Othello), I think Maqbool had more of the play. But Omkara drew more from the Hindi tradition. People said it was adding masala to Shakespeare but his writing already had those elements, but our reverential outlook never made us look at it. I thought Ishqzade was the best adaptation of Romeo and Juliet and I’m looking forward to Haider.

For more on this story go to: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bangalore/Shakespeares-meant-to-be-heard/articleshow/42927826.cms

IMAGE: en.wikipedia.org

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