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Shakespeare and India or India's Shakespeare?

Paromita Chakravarti

Edited by Poonam Trivedi and Dennis Bartholomeusz
Pearson Longman, Delhi, 2006, pp. 270, Rs. 399.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 9 September 2006

In the last three decades Shakespeare studies and postcolonial studies have not only been intimately linked, they have also been mutually constitutive. An important strand of postcolonial studies has investigated how the English literary canon dominated by Shakespeare performed the ideological work of reinforcing the cultural superiority of the British colonizer. It has also mapped the diversity of attitudes ranging from the deferential to the subversive which have marked the postcolonial response to Shakespeare’s plays (and metonymically to colonial culture). Indian translations, adaptations and appropriations read Shakespeare not only as an English cultural icon but as a radical dramatist providing templates of resistance through plays like The Tempest and Othello. Shakespeare has been central to postcolonial studies and theory both as a symbol of the colonizer’s authority and also as a site of postcolonial challenge. Equally, the critical discourse on postcolonial Shakespearean negotiations has alerted Shakespearean scholars to pay greater attention to the ideological framework of early modern colonialisms, emergent notions of racial and cultural difference and of Englishness which inform Shakespeare’s plays and make them appropriate vehicles of both the “civilizing mission” of the colonizers and the resistance of the colonized.   Postcolonial theory provided both a framework for and a legitimacy to studies of Shakespearean transactions in India. Indian Shakespeare studies found a vantage point and a voice. However this symbiotic relationship between Shakespeare and postcolonial studies now needs to be reexamined, particularly in the Indian context. Poonam Trivedi and Dennis Bartholomeusz edited India’s Shakespeare: Translation, Interpretation and Performance engages in this project. This anthology of fifteen articles generated from the presentations made in the 1998 “Shakespeare and India” conference held in Delhi has had a long gestation during which it has transformed itself into a study of India’s Shakespeare. The difference in the title of the conference and of the book is not just accidental. It indicates a shift in postcolonial Shakespeare studies from what Sharmistha Panja, one of the contributors to the volume, calls the impulse to make “a statement about or against Shakespeare” to a “second generation postcoloniality” which regards Shakespeare not necessarily as a colonizing, alien force, but as an author internalized and familiarized through culture and pedagogy. This journey marked by a transition from a copula to a possessive is also connected to new debates in postcolonial studies.   Critics have pointed out that the model of colonial cultural exchange understood ...

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