Transmutation of Shakespearean Plays in India: the Indian Chapter of Geoffrey Kendal and ‘Shakespeareana’

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In the first half of the British rule, India observed the first staged version of Shakespeare’s plays. The performance of Shakespearean plays in Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1770 and in Calcutta (now Kolkata) can be treated as the first few examples of performing Shakespeare in India by the professional English troupes. But these plays have very modest influence to amuse the Indian viewers by the magic of Shakespeare. In 1822, through the performance of some celebrated scenes from various plays of Shakespeare in Dhurrumtollah Academy, Kolkata, Indians got the opportunity to enact Shakespeare. In the nineteenth century, as an effect of Indian Renaissance, many plays of Shakespeare were translated into different Indian vernaculars. The performance of the Bengali version of The Comedy of Errors in 1873 was the first example of this trend. In the post-independence India, the directors metamorphosed various Shakespearean plays using various indigenous theatrical forms and thus used the plays of the great playwright in their quest for rediscovering India’s own theatrical roots. From the 1990s the playwrights and the directors of globalized India adopted Shakespeare to ventilate their views on different socio-political events of the country. Sometimes they also deconstruct the plays for their own needs. In her essay, Shakespeare in India, Poonam Trivedi points out five main tendencies which basically govern the relation between Shakespeare and the Indian audience; they are: the English language Shakespeare, the localized Shakespeare, the universalized Shakespeare, the Indigenous Shakespeare and the post-colonial Shakespeare. But interestingly enough the relation between Shakespeare and Indian audience has always been confined within the affluent, aristocrat, upper or upper-middle class society. In India, Shakespeare has not been able to reach to the Indian ‘groundlings’. In this scenario, the tour of Geoffrey Kendal with his professional repertory theatre company,...
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