“Indian Responses to Shakespeare”: A Review by Subham Dutta

Title: Indian Responses to Shakespeare

Editors: Goutam Ghosal and Sarani Ghosal Mondal

Publisher: AuthorsPress India, 2017

Price: Rs. 1200, $60

Number of pages: 328

ISBN: 978-93-5207-527-0

The fact that Shakespeare was subsumed into the colonial pedagogy in order to serve a blatantly imperialist agenda is well-known.  Despite specific ideological orientation and the usage of Shakespeare as a cultural “material” to consolidate empire across the world, what seems to be quite unique in the timeless appeal of Shakespeare is its seamless crossing over of many socio-cultural boundaries irrespective of their linguistic, cultural, racial, ideological differences. This far-reaching appeal and timeless popularity liberate Shakespeare from the ideological bounds of a particular nation or culture and make it a site where responses from various corners of the world can be registered and negotiated.

A number of critical texts have tried to evaluate the reception of Shakespeare in India. Among them  Poonam Trivedi’s India’s Shakespeare: Translation, Interpretation, and Performance (2005), Sukanta Chaudhuri’s Shakespeare in India, Shormistha Panja’s Performing Shakespeare in India are notable because of their scholarly insights in re-evaluating and receiving Shakespeare in the pluralistic cultural framework ‘the idea of India’ gets inevitably associated with. Furthermore there are many critical articles which contribute to the reception of Shakespeare in different languages and cultures through textual or performative modes. Fundamentally, their approach has been quite diverse and eclectic in keeping with the cultural diversity and intrinsic plurality of the national culture.

Indian Responses to Shakespeare edited by Goutam Ghosal and Sarani Ghosal Mondal chart a different territory to emerge as a fresh intervention in this field of Shakespeare studies to collate different scholarly responses of eminent Indian scholars on Shakespeare. With an array of scholarly opinions from different perspectives the book becomes one of the unique volumes in the history of Shakespeare criticism in India to transcribe responses to various textual and performative issues related to Shakespeare without delving elaborately into the much talked about history of Shakespeare’s acculturation to India. The editors have divided the book into five sections: “Global Reception of Shakespeare in Different Mediums”, “Perspectives on Different Aspects”, “Political Views”, “Feminist Reading of the Bard”, “Bard through the lens of Occidental Philosophers”. The editors have done a very painstaking job to compile these different responses to different sections so that it becomes convenient for a reader to take his/her desired perspective for future references.

The first section begins with Professor Sachidananda Mohanty’s article entitled Shakespeare Today which quite uniquely traces the history of Shakespeare’s dissemination in the nation and how it goes beyond the field of literature to get included into the domains of “philosophy, history and jurisprudence.” His essay brings together different receptions of Shakespeare in different mediums including University Syllabus, Popular Culture to trace the appropriation of the bard across a broad spectrum that goes beyond the horizon of any canonical reading of Shakespeare. Taking cue from Harish Trivedi’s argument about the democratization of empire, he argues how Shakespeare has become a global icon “in which he remains one among many elective options.” The article is groundbreaking in terms of its refreshing approach to evaluate Shakespeare’s popularity across different spectrums of contemporary life and culture. It seeks to read Shakespeare going beyond the elitist hierarchical canon and thereby calls into question the cultural monolith created around the bard to widen the possibilities of its reception across different parts of the world in contemporary times. Professor Abhijit Sen in an article entitled Silences in Shakespeare’s Plays quite adeptly brings out the interface between the visual and the aural/oral aspects of Shakespearean performance texts to explore the subtle nuances vis-à-vis which the silences underlying the structures of it text can be construed. He refers to Corialanus, Richard III, Henry VI, Henry VII, to Macbeth in order to foreground how silence sometimes becomes the agency to express emotional intensity beyond the discursive layers of language. From another perspective, he shows how silence becomes subject to the game of power and evokes disturbing implications, impossible to interpret. Professor Sen’s article is a very plausible attempt at the deconstructive study of a Shakespearean text seeking to unravel the role of silences intrinsic to Shakespearean plays and how it becomes instrumental in re-reading texts which are always remain in transition through different modes of reception and engagement.

Professor Somdatta Mandal’s article charts a different territory to explore the relevance of the bard’s on-screen re-interpretation. Professor Mandal cites examples from different cinematic adaptations of Shakespeare to argue how each adaptation offers a platform for re-interpreting Shakespeare thereby contributes to the re-evaluation of Shakespeare in different mediums and plays a pivotal role in extending its canon. Professor Himadri Lahiri’s article “Domesticating” the Text: Shakespeare Translation in India offers a much nuanced reading of the cultural translations and performances done by different authors and theatrical practitioners in domesticating a wide array of texts within the socio-cultural milieu of India. This article presents Shakespeare as a site where different possibilities of cultural exchange can be played out and negotiated in order to achieve a cultural equivalence through adaptations and translations. Lahiri’s article shows considerable amount of originality in unraveling the ramifications associated with the process of domesticating the bard, however, ends on a note of optimism thrusting on the necessity of situating the bard in entirely different contexts and contributing to its global and transcultural reception thereby. Professor Nilanjan Chakrabarty’s Shakespeare Revisited in France comes as one of the fresh contribution of the volume as it expatiates on Shakespeare’s re-interpretation and translation in French culture. Going beyond the ossified cultural rivalry between England and France, different references to Shakespeare by Victor Hugo, Alexander Dumas and Balzac, as explored by Professor Chakravarty, speak volumes about the bard’s popularity and acceptance even in rival cultures. This well-researched article is one of the more important contributions to this volume and gives it a new dimension. Dr. Tapu Biswas in his article specifically focuses on two different productions of King Lear : “King Lear in Kathakali” and Pagla Raja: King Lear in Hindi to trace how the story of Lear leaves ample scope for its re-interpretation and re-representation in different dramatic forms and languages. Sarani Ghoshal Mondal’s article, deviating a bit from this transcultural adaptation of Shakespeare, charts an ideologically different territory to trace how Whitman’s literary criticism makes room for critical engagement with Shakespeare in America. Unlike other articles in this volume, here the author draws on an alternative methodological approach based on Sri Aurobindo’s consciousness approach to establish her hypothesis comparing the critical insights of Walt Whitman and Sri Aurobindo in their evaluation of Shakespeare. This article fittingly contributes to the title of this volume drawing on a methodology derived from Sri Aurobindo with its roots deeply delved into Eastern philosophical school of thoughts. Ideologically, it places the word “Indian” to the foreground with due importance. Following the tone and language of Sri Aurobindo’s non-fictional works it breaks away from the contemporary trend of jargon-oriented literary criticism.

If the earlier portion was devoted to the global reception of Shakespeare across different mediums, this portion comes with a more eclectic collection of essays on different aspects of Shakespeare. Murali Sivaramakrishnan writes on the poetics of Shakespeare drawing on the Derridean deconstructive reading of Shakespearean theatre. The centre-margin dialectic surrounding Shakespearean texts and their representation within them in theatrical performances gets highlighted in this essay. Shirshendu Majumder contributes a very well-written article from the ecological standpoint to trace an interface between art and nature in Shakespearean texts. He traces the history of Renaissance Europe to trace how agricultural patterns, rituals and rites prevalent in that time had played an important role in setting the backdrop for different Shakespearean plays. Subir Dhar’s article comes as a refreshing intervention to the reading of Porter scene in Macbeth. With an intensive reading of the Porter Scene , Dhar shows how the aural textures play an important role in dissecting a text like Macbeth. Drawing on Roman Jakobson’s Lectures on Sound and Meaning, the author brings the figure of the Porter to the foreground to argue how he strikes a distinctive chord with the audience than Macbeth, the eponymous hero of the play. A close textual study, underpinned by a solid theoretical foundation, this article seems to enrich this volume to a great extent. Sukla Basu Sen’s on As You Like It focusing specifically on Rosalind can also be treasured as an important articles for Shakespeare enthusiasts. Santanu Majumder writes on the politics of silence in Hamlet in order to show the fissures and limitations of language related to ‘vital issues of life and art.’ Manju Dutta Gupta’s Night and Playwright ruminates on the implication of darkness. Comparing Shakespeare with modern dramatists like Pinter, she argues how Shakespearean worldview was also filled with angst intrinsic to modern drama. Her argument revolves round the fact that how the poetic grandeur of Shakespeare gets interspersed with a sense of menace springing from this angst and lends the word night its symbolic meaning and substance thereby. Chidananda Bhattacharya writes on The Final Couplet in Shakespearean Sonnet to argue how Shakespearean sonnet follows an ‘incremental structure’ to show how the couplet comes as a resolution to the crises emerged in text. This article comes as a refreshing departure from numerous opinions on Shakespeare’s plays.

In the third section we find political readings of Shakespeare. This section is enriched by articles from Pathik Roy and Debarati Bandyopadhyay. Pathik Roy contributes two political articles, among them one is about debunking Republicanism in Shakespeare. He argues Shakespearean Rome to be a cultural signifier, a symbolic space rather than being a mere decorative backdrop and a spatial location. Focusing on Julius Ceasar, Pathik Roy with the display of penetrating clarity and insights offers a re-reading of Julius Ceasar by unraveling the ethos of republicanism steeped in it. Despite having a strictly hierarchical order in place, this re-reading of Caeser’s world as republic offers ample scope laying bare the nuances and possibilities of re-reading in Shakespeare. Debarati Bandopadhyay follows Micheal Foucault’s methodology to trace how the disciplinary and discursive institutions shape the politics of power in Measure for Measure. Like Roy’s article this article is also groundbreaking and fresh in its approach and treatment. It makes Shakespeare a part of the ‘Strategic essentialism’ Spivak elaborately spoke of. This discursive game of power-politics with epistemic ramifications has also been fleshed out in Pathik Roy’s second article on Porter Scene in Macbeth. Saurav Das Thakur follows this Foucaldian paradigm to unravel layers of patriarchal domination in Othello. This article has although been incorporated in a different section entitled Female Sexuality in Othello, it could have been easily clubbed with the earlier portion as Das Thakur predicates his article on a premise governed by the power-knowledge dialectic. With his scholarly insights Das Thakur’s reading happens to be one of the riches of this volume. Tanuka Das, Sarani Ghoshal Mondal, Sukla Basu Sen write on the complexities of gender roles and transgressive desire embedded in Shakespearean texts to show how the Feminist politics in Shakespearean texts becomes a site of contestation as well as negotiation.

The last section in keeping with the title of the volume registers opinions from a perspective that departs from the Western theoretical approaches. Goutam Ghosal shows how different layers of consciousness are intermingled in Shakespeare drawing on Sri Aurobindo’s conceptual tool derived from Upanisadic tradition. The author shows how Shakespeare despite living in a mass society shows characteristics of human evolution from lower to higher aspects of life through the heightening, deepening of human consciousness. Anurag Banerjee embarks on an ambitious project to compare Shakespeare, Sri Aurobindo, Kalidasa and Rabindranath together in his article. The article serves dual purpose : first it registers an Indian scholar’s responses to Shakespeare from a perspective rooted in Indian ethos, secondly, it seamlessly makes ground for a comparative reading of Shakespeare’s philosophy of writing with Kalidasa, Rabindranath and of course Sri Aurobindo. Banerjee’s article seems to usher in a new kind of reception of Shakespeare through this comparative philosophical approach which Shakespearean scholars especially from colonial countries are definitely going to think of and refer to in their readings of Shakespeare.

The editors of this volume have done a commendable job in arranging these articles in different sections. Essays collected and arranged in different sections evidently enrich the worth of this volume and make it very convenient for readers to access and refer to. It comes with a very impressive cover design with a portrait of the bard with earring. The price of this volume, may seem to be a bit high for the students, the rich repertoire of articles it offers from various perspectives is going to make up for it. Overall, Indian Responses to Shakespeare can be a treasure for every inquisitive mind and for every institutional library.

About the reviewer:  Subham Dutta is a research scholar in Visva-Bharati and works as an Assistant Professor in Gokhale Memorial Girls’ College.

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2 thoughts on ““Indian Responses to Shakespeare”: A Review by Subham Dutta

  1. When I was a young boy; I was highly impressed with Amal Kiran’s booklet, “Sri Aurobindo on Shakespeare“. This booklet is out of print at present but was a jewel on the series. I had it and it had occupied a very prominent place in my library. I borrowed it to someone and never saw it again. I wish someone had mentioned about the four or five articles included in the booklet written for “Mother India”. I am sure Goutam Ghosal and Sarani Ghosal Mondal have also analysed the booklet in their treatise, “Indian Responses to Shakespeare”.

  2. When I was a young boy, I was highly impressed with Amal Kiran’s booklet, “Sri Aurobindo on Shakespeare“. This booklet is out of print at present but was a jewel on the series. I had it and it had occupied a very prominent place in my library. I borrowed it to someone and never saw it again. I wish someone had mentioned about the four or five articles therein written for “Mother India”. I am sure Goutam Ghosal and Sarani Ghosal Mondal have also analysed the booklet in their treatise,” Indian Responses to Shakespeare”.

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