Shakespeare Around the World
Intercultural Practice: Shakespeare around the World
‘The answer to the question, “Why Shakespeare?” must be “Who else is there?” No one did it better than him, so let him speak for himself.’
The universality of William Shakespeare’s work places him in a very comfortable position within the intercultural debates, making the author the most frequently performed playwright in the world. From Ariane Mnouchkine who used Japanese and Indian elements in her Shakespeare’s productions to Shozo Sato’s Macbeth performed in a Kabuki style, Shakespeare’s plays have been revitalized and deconstructed in a variety of ways. In December 1999, I was invited to co direct A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a very young theatre company called Kabala Teatro. This community-based and itinerant company aimed to present a refreshed and more engaging approach to Shakespeare’s plays to the younger audiences giving them the opportunity to participate in the production process through workshops, stage management and acting. Based on Augusto Boal’s Forum Theatre and with strong foundations in Intercultural practice, Kabala Teatro shared Turner’s vision of a world where people should exchange ideas and experience each other’s cultural identities.
In 1999, Portugal saw their immigration levels increase when the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Consultation between the Portuguese Republic and the Federative Republic of Brazil was signed. Thousands of Brazilian citizens moved to Portugal which was already home of immigrants from Angola, Mozambique, Cabo Verde and Guinea Bissau. The company intended to use this new achieved melting pot to recreate a classical, adapting the mystical world of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream to the Afro-Brazilian folklore. Shakespeare’s fairies and elves were replaced by African Spirits who practised Capoeira and Maculele, Brazilian dance/ fight forms with African roots.
When discussing the concept of Interculturalism, it is almost impossible to avoid the fear of the “political incorrectness” or cultural fundamentalism. Schechner defends that ‘Exchange is only possible (…) at a level of artistic equality between professionals who mutually recognise each other as travelling companions.’ (Pavis: 1996) In his interview with Patrice Pavis, Schechner explained the reason why he no longer uses the term internationalism to describe his theatrical vision, but Interculturalism. In Schechner’s opinion, although there were plenty of national exchanges, the true exchange was the one among cultures, done by individuals or non-official groups.
Interculturalism cannot be mistaken by multiculturalism, where different cultures co-exist simultaneously, or cross-culturalism where individuals learn and practice something from another culture. With Interculturalism, new forms emerge from the dialogue and interaction between two cultures.
This essay aims to explore the role of Shakespeare’s legacy in the intercultural practice field around the world, offering an analysis of the work of Robert Lepage, Corinne Jaber, Djanet Sears, Tadashi Suzuki and Arianne Mnouchkine.
‘The fault, dear Brutus, lies not within the stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.’ - Julius Caesar
Mass migrations due to political oppression, war, colonialism is just one of the many social pressures the world faces today. Although this might be seen by some as a social or political problem, for the artist is just another opportunity for development and enrichment. It is undeniable that the majority of European Theatre is still stagnated in its naturalistic and realistic styles, performing for an elite audience, exploring themes that only interest and entertain a very specific part of the population. In theatre, the challenge lies exactly in the creation of new material which resonates and reflects on every aspect of society. Intercultural performance is not just another way of making art but an ongoing process off mixing and experiencing different cultural styles, a platform where artists meet and learn from each other cultural identities.
Although intercultural performance is not new with the constant social changes happening in the world today, it became urgent to analyse and reflect on this controversial topic. In the beginning of the XXth century, the development of theatrical Interculturalism was mainly an answer to colonisation. Nigerian Yoruba travelling theatre used 1930s Christian choral tradition to integrate Yoruba culture as an affirmation of the Nigerian identity.
Canadian theatre director Robert Lepage introduced the concept of Multilingualism in his practice in order to convey the idea of a panoply of cultures, using different languages on stage. This performance style has been considered by many critics as ‘a realistic representation of the Babelistic world in which we live’. (Bovet: 2000) Sociolinguist Jean A. Laponce defends that human languages serve only two purposes, identity and communication. According to Laponce (1984) it is usually the language associated to childhood, regardless if it is mother tongue or not, that defines the individual identity. As far as communication is concerned, in a unilingual context, it is more efficient the use of a single identity tongue which allows an exchange of emotions, while in a multilingual context only one interlocutor requires the identity-tongue, even though the verbal communication becomes easier for one and harder for the other. In Lepage’s plays, the use of multilingual dialogue is characterized by misunderstandings and do not ensure real communication. It is easily replaced by other forms of language, body and art that end up merging themselves facilitating the birth of a unique way of communicating through a sensorial and spiritual process. According to Jeanne Bovet, ‘Multilinguism in Lepage’s work thus appears as the symbol of a conflict between identity and universality, between the need for self-expression hic et nunc and the need for true communication with one’s fellow men beyond the limit of time and space. It is by struggling with multilingual communication that Lepage’s characters come to discover that a strong sense of identity is the only way to reach awareness of the unity of mankind and, therefore, achieve universality.’ (Bovet:2000)
This approach to theatre through interaction with other cultures is as strong as its opponent, which insists in keeping each other cultures as pure as possible, passing every single detail unchanged to future generations. The way to negotiate borders and fight against cultural fundamentalism is according to Michel Garneau, Canadian dramatist who rewrote Macbeth, The Tempest and Coriolanus for Lepage’s company Theatre Repere, by surviving. He confessed that he was terrified of Shakespeare and that he could only attempt to rewrite The Tempest ‘from and for his own Quebecois identity’ when he ‘reduced Shakespeare to size by calling him “Willie”’. (Salter:2000)
There is a sense of reverse colonization in cultures like Canada, where monuments like Shakespeare exist almost to be questioned, reconfigured. According to Denis Salter, Shakespeare is rewritten in order ‘to write ourselves; reinvent Him to be free of Him; or, in more radical situations, we simply ban His works: He will not be read and studied in our schools, He will not be performed in our theaters.’ (Salter:2000)
However, Garneau’s work is not just about survival, it is an ideological reflection of the post-colonial society he was living in. While in The Tempest, he chose to use generic French, with Macbeth, Shakespeare became a political instrument in the project of ‘textual decolonization’. Garneau’s “tradaptation” of Macbeth takes the audience to a linguistic trip into the pre-1950s Quebecois French where the historical and cultural voice of Shakespeare can be sensed in every bit of subtext and English and French are used to enhance each other. For some cultural fundamentalists, this kind of survival can be seen as a betrayal, but for a company like Theatre Repere and a director like Lepage, this linguistic exploration is the perfect platform for a “globealizing” journey.
‘Sir, he hath never fed of the dainties that are bred in a book; he hath not eat paper, as it were; he hath not drunk ink: his intellect is not replenished.’ – Love’s Labour’s Lost
In 2005, for the first time in thirty years, in the city of Kabul, men and women performed on the stage together. Shakespeare’s play Love’s Labour’s Lost united Qais Akbar Omar, Stephen Landrigan and the Paris based actress Corinne Jaber to direct a group of actors in a Shakespeare’s script in Dari. The challenges were huge, from the complexity of the play’s language to the pressure of living in a war zone, the actors worked hard to capture the optimistic feeling of a new Afghanistan.
Corinne Jaber, German Canadian actress and theatre director was part of the Peter Brook’s Mahabharata’s cast and toured with the Royal Shakespeare Company in the bilingual production of Bruce Myers’ A Dybbuk for Two People. When she accepted the invitation to direct a play in Kabul she searched Ariane Mnouchkine for advice on the choice of the play. Mnouchkine had worked with actors from all over the world and had already been invited by Robert Kluijver to lead some acting workshops with a group of young Afghan actors. Mnouchkine suggested Moliere’s Tartuffe due to the exploration of the topic of human greed as a critic to the corruption that had started to emerge in this recently freed country. However, after rereading the play, Jaber did not find what she was looking for, she felt that the play lacked the power and the universality of Shakespeare’s plays. Jaber wanted a play where she could feel the physical and emotional energy that she had seen in the Afghan actors.
Although things had changed in Kabul and the ferocious Taliban regime had ended, it was still difficult to understand what were the limits as far as the choice of an appropriate play was concerned. Shakespeare historical plays were Jaber’s first instinct because all of them related to war and conflict. However, plays such as Henry V, Richard II and Macbeth were too close to home, filled with civil war, rival warlords and corrupt governments and what Afghanistan needed at that moment, was a fresh and light comedy.
Love’s Labour’s Lost was not the first Shakespeare’s comedy, Jaber was drawn to. However, it was the fact that the play required the same number of female and male actors on stage and that the female characters were not mere trophies to be won in the end, but the ones who demanded total commitment from men that made this play the breath of fresh air the Afghan audiences needed after decades of conflict and heartbreak.
The universality of Shakespeare’s plays proved once again to be the right choice to revitalize this damaged country. The setting of the play is the XVth century France but still pertinent to Afghanistan. It tells the story of four nobleman who plan to study and renounce women for four years. However, this tyrannical plan falls apart when they encounter four princesses and fall in love with them. The plot could not be simpler and much of the humour lies on how the lords and the king pretend to each other that they are not falling in love with the ladies.
The first thing the director decided to do was to change the nationality of the characters from French to Afghan. Other scenes had also to be adapted, such as the scene where the noblemen disguise themselves as a group of Russians that due to political reasons could have been seen as unfunny, so instead of Russians, the noblemen disguised themselves as Indians. Politics and theatre have always walked side by side and these last two centuries have witnessed many theatrical attempts of exploring social relations and seeking to have a strong political effect on the world outside the stage. Love’s Labour’s Lost fitted perfectly into Corinne Jaber’s main goal that it was to get women performing on stage. To cast Afghan actresses, auditions could not be advertised, so the team had to rely on word of mouth, some of these women received death threats and were harassed on the streets. The role of theatre should be to heighten consciousness and inform, Jaber’s production of Love’s Labour’s Lost fitted the purpose.
According to Jaber, the difficulty did not lie on the storytelling or characterization, but the education level of the actors and the fact that the only translation they had was in Persian. It would have made no sense to present a play in English in a country who had been in war for more than twenty-five years and lived under one of the strictest regimes known by mankind. The text had to be translated to Dari and edited several times because some of the passages were incomprehensible to the Afghans. The main theme of the play is the idea of love. Shakespeare was passionate in the way he portrayed love but that was not coming across when the actors said their lines. Jaber decided to lead a discussion about the meaning of love and the cultural differences between east and west came to light. When questioned about the definition of love, one of the actors, Faisal Jan answered: ‘Westerners express love along the road, in bars, at home, on the roof, anywhere, without any regard or respect for it. My definition for love is fondness and devotion of a lifetime for something or someone in a respectful manner. (Landrigan & Omar: 2012) Another criticism of the way the western society pursues love emerged from mouth of a very young actress, Nabi Tanha: ‘In the West, people have built another concept of love over time. A boy looks at a pretty girl, and falls in love, and vice versa. They fall in love with th eir appearances. But the surface beauty doesn’t last very long, only to a certain age. What then? You spurn your “beloved”, because he or she is not beautiful anymore? And it seems what is exactly happening in the West. That is why the rate of divorce is so high, and it’s getting higher and higher every year.’(Landrigan & Omar: 2012) Since it was becoming very difficult to reach a consensus on how to approach the play’s topic, Jaber suggested to talk about Hate. The answer was unanimous, no one felt comfortable about discussing the meaning of the word Hate. When questioned about the reasons why, the actor Arif Jan was fast in his answer: ‘Hate was what our country and its people have been cursed with for the past three decades.’ Peter Brook, who had already worked with Corinne Jaber in The Mahabharata gave her a valid advice: ‘He told her not to impose her ideas on the Afghans, but rather to listen to the actors and to take what they had to give her. It seemed like a straightforward advice, but she had no way of knowing then just how hard it would be to follow, nor how much the Afghan actors had to give her.’ (Landrigan & Omar: 2012) Jaber followed Brook’s advice, and after the Love/Hate discussion, she started to listen more to them and slowly Shakespeare’s text gained a brand-new meaning.
The final result was a play performed mainly to a male audience where men and women held hands on stage and women appeared in some scenes without their head scarves on. Although Corinne Jaber’s production was seen as radical, she did not consider herself a revolutionary. In an interview to BBC, she stated: ‘I am not a feminist. I am not doing this to make these women “free”. I am just taking care of what I need to do, to artistically tell a story.’ (BBC News:2012)
‘The Moor is of free and open nature, That thinks men honest that but seem to be so, And will as tenderly be led by th’nose As asses are. – Othello
In Othello, Shakespeare tells the story of a Moor, whose excellence as a soldier facilitates his integration in the Venetian society. Although the Venetians find difficult to accept Othello’s marriage to Desdemona, a young lady from a noble family, his outstanding military career has earned him enough respectability and notoriety to be allowed into the clan. However, it is his career that affects their relationship, when Othello is asked to move to Cyprus to fight the Kurds. After defeating the Kurds, Othello has nothing else to do, no more tales of bravery to tell and starts to feel uneasy for being unable to prove his manhood in court or battlefields. It is this feeling of uneasiness that Yago uses to destroy Othello’s marriage and self-esteem and the fact that they are totally isolated, miles away from the cosmopolitan city of Venice. Isolation enables them to prey on each other and since they are not allowed to be “islands”, it is seen as an act of self-preservation which ultimately leads to self-destruction. Nevertheless, it is Othello who suffers most from this seclusion due to his physical characteristics and colour of his skin which makes him a cultural and racial outsider wherever he goes. Whether he recognises his exotic appeal or is just defensive about his appearance, Othello makes sure to present himself as an outsider to the ones around him. In the speech that precedes his suicide, Othello redeems himself to the audience and regains his respectability. It is his victimization in the hands of a foreign culture and the need to torment himself what makes him one of the most charismatic tragic figures in the history of theatre.
In 1997, Djanet Sears, African Canadian feminist director produced and directed Harlem Duet, as a response to Shakespeare’s Othello. The plot travels between centuries from 1860s to 1960s and is set in Harlem. It starts with American civil war and Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and ends with Black pride and the streets of Harlem bursting with Jazz and Blues. The play tells us the story of Othello’s life before Desdemona and his first marriage with Billie, a black woman.
Shakespeare is there, surrounded by the voices of Langston Hughes, whose poem is heard in the play’s final scene, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. Through Shakespeare, Djanet Sears deal with important social issues such as interracial relationships, racial integration and equality. In Notes of a Coloured Girl, Sears explained how this Shakespeare’s play has haunted her throughout her professional life: ‘As a veteran theatre practitioner of African Descent, Shakespeare’s Othello has haunted me since I first was introduced to him. Sir Lawrence Olivier in black face. Othello is the first African portrayed in the annals of Western dramatic literature. In an effort to exorcise his ghost, I have written Harlem Duet.’ (Dickinson: 2002)
Sears places Shakespeare in the middle of other literary voices through a series of duologue scenes where Billie and Othello reflect on the highs and lows of their marriage and the ultimate reasons why Othello decides to leave Billie for a white woman. In an interview to Montreal Gazette, Sears explained the true meaning of her play and the role of Desdemona in the plot, ‘Desdemona is a secondary role, because it’s not about her. It’s about the role of race in the relationship between Othello and (his first wife) Billie.’ (Donnelly:2012) The disintegration of Billie and Othello’s relationship is an ongoing process that is played in two simultaneous plotlines throughout the play. The ideologies of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X (assimilationist versus separatist) are deeply rooted in the characters’ dichotomy and it is reinforced by the way their apartment is strategically spaced on stage, at the corner of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X’ s Boulevards. According to Ric Knowles ‘the play also directly represents the history of slavery and blackface ministresly in its crucial 1860 and 1928 actions…’ (Knowles: 2010)
Othello’s confessions that ‘he is tired of this race shit’, that he ‘is a member of the human race’ and that he finds it easier to be with a white woman: ‘To a Black woman, I represent every black man she has ever been with and with whom there was so much to work out. The White women I loved saw me – could see me. […] I am a very single, very intelligent, very employed Black man. And White woman it’s good. It’s nice.’ (Sears:1997) shows that he is not very interested in reflecting about the problems of his marriage, leaving to Billie the role of placing the power dynamics of their relationship within the American race relations scale. In Harlem Duet, Desdemona is only heard backstage, after all she is totally out of the equation and Billie’s response to Othello’s divagations of ’Black women wearing the pants that Black men were prevented from wearing’ and that ‘White women’s movement is different’ is fast and deadly: ‘Your mother worked all her life. My mother worked, her mother worked… Most black women have been working like mules since we arrived on this continent. Like mules. When White women burn their bras, we were hired to hold their tits up. We looked after their homes, their children… I don’t support you? My mother’s death paid your tuition, not mine…’ (Sears:1997)
To explore the tension between European and African-American cultural ways of expression, Sears employed various techniques when choosing the musical accompaniment of the play. She summed up her musical approach to the play and the use of Blues in a magnificent cello and Bass solo as follows: ‘When I was looking at how to approach Harlem as a director, the first question was – “what kind of play is this/ Is this a comedy, is this a tragedy? – I came up with this phrase that this was a “rhapsodic blues tragedy”. That phrase talks about my cultural ties, my history. (…) In Harlem Duet I wanted a tension between European culture and African-American culture. I used blues music but I asked Allen [Booth, the sound and music designer] to create blues music for that tension, it’s beautiful and it has that drama implicit in it.’ (Dickinson:2002)
While Shakespeare often wrote his plays gyrating around the main character’s unfixable defect which in Othello’s case is jealousy, there are other underlying issues that cannot be easily dismissed. There is an urgency of belonging, that Djanet Sears describes so vividly in her adaptation of the play. In Elizabethan times, topics such as physical deformity, darkness of skin and non-Christian traditions were usually associated with wickedness and corruption. Othello is often referred by Iago and Roderigo through spiteful racial remarks such as “black ram” and by Emilia who accused him of being “the blacker devil”. However, it is Othello himself who blames his tempestuous and impulsive behaviour on his black heritage.
In Harlem Duet, the ‘black masculinity is clearly in crisis’ (Dickinson:2010), on one hand Billie accuses Othello of “negrophobia”, on the other Sears attempts to put Black women into the picture through other haunting literary voices such as Sojourner Truth poem “Ain’t I a woman?” Sear’s tragic end of her play, where Billie, abandoned and lonely, rocks herself back and forth in a psychiatric ward in Harlem, singing to herself is just the beginning of another tragedy where the same social issues are intensely explored.
‘They told me I was everything: ‘tis a lie, I am no ague-proof.’ – King Lear
Tadashi Suzuki, Japanese theatre director and founder of Suzuki Company of Toga in Toyana - Japan, is alongside with Robert Wilson, Peter Brook and Wole Soyinka one of the most influential interculturalists in the twentieth century. His acting method has been taught in the most prestigious acting schools in the world, such as Julliard and Columbia. His method is inspired by Greek theatre and martial arts and requires full concentration and energy. Its purpose is to teach the actor to use his natural expressiveness while committing physical and emotionally to the role. Suzuki stages classical plays from the Greeks Euripedes, Sophocles and Aeschylus and Elizabethan Shakespeare using Kabuki and Noh techniques mixed with a variety of Avant-garde approaches. The final result is a highly stylized and physicalized performance.
In the Tale of Lear, based on Shakespeare’s most accomplished tragedy, King Lear, Suzuki has once again reconceived the play’s entire structure. Shakespeare’s Lear differs from his other tragic heroes due to the emphasis the author puts in his decrepitude. Suzuki presents the audience with a demented King, living in a nursing home reading the book, King Lear and slowly becoming the main character of the story. In Suzuki’s production, the audience was denied to witness the deterioration and fall of an ageing king and was shown a vision of nihilistic despair in a minimalistic stage and with actors dressed with kimono-like costumes, rearranged in a way to resemble Elizabethan tunics. The female characters of the play were played by male actors to keep the Greek, Elizabethan and Kabuki traditions. According to Tetsuo Kishi, this ‘…shows how cleverly Susuki interpreted Shakespeare in the context of Japanese culture today.’ (Kishi:2011) The betrayals, usurpation and family intrigues became imaginative reveries of a man who had long lost his sanity. Although the text was given a radical cosmetic surgery and cut in almost half of its length, Shakespeare’s words were still there and it was the essence of Shakespeare that survived from all the editing and the butchery. The fact that everyone in the play suspects everyone else, and most importantly that everyone can kill, gives the story the mood of a dark chess game. True and self-sacrificing love is embodied in the relationship of Lear and his youngest daughter Cordelia. This is not just a political play but a play of family dynamics with devastating consequences. When the king gives away his authority and falls into de evil spell of his older daughters, Goneril and Regan, he is also jeopardizing the faith of the country. King Lear also deals with mental health and dementia and grief and the loss of a child, the most tragic and unnatural thing that can happen to a parent.
In the 1988 production, Suzuki introduces the character of the Nurse, who in the beginning of the play picks up the book, King Lear, that the Old Man dropped when falling asleep and silently but eagerly starts reading it with a box of popcorn beside her. This represents the ‘distancing effect’ (Yasunari:2004) that has always characterised Suzuki’s work. The enacting of Lear’s story and the ritualistic entrance of the courtiers accompanied by the velvety melody of Handel’s Largo is only interrupted by the boisterous laugh of the Nurse. Although Suzuki wants the audience to believe that the action happening on stage is merely the Old Man’s imagination, the constant presence of the Nurse shows that maybe Lear’s dreams is the ‘real time’ representation of what she is reading.
The actors’ bodies were mere performative instruments firmly rooted to the floor, while their upper-bodies were held in dramatic poses, as sculptures whose intensity lied in the eyes staring brutally to the audience. Sometimes they moved athletically around the stage with the training of a professional athlete or they could artistically move in stylized ballet-like way. The words were in English but thrown to the audience like shouts. Suzuki’s style is disciplined and controlled and although the actors of this production were mostly American, this performance to which the director called “an experiment” had an almost ritualistic characteristic.
Suzuki explained his vision of the play as follows: ‘What I am trying to do is to restore the wholeness of the human body in the theatrical context, not simply by going back to such traditional theatrical forms as Noh and Kabuki, but by employing their unique virtues, to create something transcending current practice in the modern theatre.’ (Killian:1988)
Suzuki received mixed criticism to his production of The Tale of Lear. If the Americans seemed more receptive to the play, the British were implacable: ‘Does the world need another Japanese production set in a mental hospital?’ asks a critic from Times, or ‘Where Shakespeare’s Lear offers us a fluctuating image of moral chaos, Susuki’s implies that we are all mad or spiritually crippled. It reduces the multi-dimensionality of Shakespeare.’, a Guardian critic writes. (Yasunari: 2004)
‘Ah, Richard! With the eyes of heavy mind I see thy glory, like a shooting star, Fall to the base earth from the firmament’ - Richard II
French theatre director and founder of the Avant-Garde theatre, Teatre du Soleil, Ariane Mnouchkine is well known for her internationalism and for being the only woman to have won the Ibsen Award. Her company achieved notoriety for its Brecht inspired performances about the French Revolution, where actors told stories about the Revolution from the point of view of the ordinary people.
Richard II is part of Mnouchkine’s Shakespeare’s cycle together with Twelfth Night and Henry IV where she fused Shakespeare’s tradition with imagery brought from Japan, Bali and India. It is a historical play, the first part of a tetralogy, or a four-part series and is set in medieval England. It tells the story of the rise of the English House of Lancaster and reflects on the emotional and psychological effects of power on the ones who struggle to obtain it and the ones who are cursed by it. Despite of enjoying being a king and having a natural predisposition for poetic language, Richard II is totally disconnected from his land and his people and ends up being overthrown by his cousin Henry Bolingbroke.
Although Mnouchkine tried to avoid any kind of historical information and generalize the meanings of the play, many critics were not totally convinced by this intercultural experiment. However, Mnouchkine managed to prove that even though Richard II illustrates an historical moment of England, the play belongs not only to the English culture but to the world. Mnouchkine’s intentions were ‘…to free Shakespeare’s work from any identifiable temporal or local restrictions.’ (Trivedi&Dijuta:2010) Lecoq’s mime techniques and ancient Asian theatrical forms were what Mnouchkine applied on her production of the Shakespeare’s play. According to Mnouchkine, the decision to perform Shakespeare in Asia, became a necessity: ‘Because Shakespeare is located within the metaphor of human truths. So we seek ways of staging him which avoid the realistic and the prosaic at all costs.’ (Mnouchkine: 1996) Asian folklore is full of warriors, kings and princesses, the need for a ‘hyperrealistic’ performance is crucial; therefore, the actor needs to be precise in the gesture and corporal expression if he wants to act the role of a hero. The references to kabuki, Noh and Bunraku are used merely to represent the sacred and ritualistic qualities of the plays.
‘I am a bastard, too. I love bastards. I am a bastard begot, bastard instructed, bastard in mind, bastard in valour, in everything illegitimate.’ – Troilus and Cressida
The relationship between the Orient and Occident theatrical forms has become a central topic in interculturalist discussions in recent years. According to Peter Brook, ‘Each culture expresses a different portion of the inner atlas, the complete human truth is global, and the theatre is the place in which the jigsaw can be pieced together.’ (Brook:1987) The need of an intercultural practice is undeniable in a world where cultures are in constant movement and mutation. There is no better way to fight political and social fundamentalism than through art. My encounter with interculturalist performance almost two decades ago made me realise that we do not really own anything in this world and that what I call mine is as foreign as what my next-door neighbour calls his. The birth of new forms of artistic expression derived from a mixture of cultures is what makes us part of the human race.
The concept of a world culture does not defend the annulation of each other differences in order to achieve a common goal. It is exactly the opposite, it is a journey towards a mutual objective, a companionship and above all a work in progress. To examine Interculturalist practice is to accept that there are certain cultural characteristics that can only be understood in the context of the culture concerned. That is why interculturalists such as Suzuki, Brook or Soyinka always presented their work to audiences of their own culture.
This essay did not intend to put Shakespeare above every single playwright on earth, but to analyse why different directors from all over the world are still drawn to him and how his plays are still used to discuss pertinent contemporary issues. The diverse way his work is approached and the fact that his plays are constantly being reconstructed does not remove any of his historical and cultural roots, on the contrary, it enhances and fortifies his relevance in the theatrical world. According to Yeeyon Im, ‘Universalizing Shakespeare has been a process of spiritualizing it, and abstract ideas cross cultural boundaries more freely than material forms. Understandably Shakespeare is never regarded as a part of specific culture of early modern England, as other cultural traditions are or demand to be. Shakespeare’s “universality” offers the basis for many intercultural productions, guaranteeing their access to diverse audiences.’
To welcome new approaches to Shakespeare’s plays allows the integration of unconventional aesthetics into a stagnated local culture. It is a way of rejuvenating and integrating new theatrical practices into the European performative world. Everyone’s individual interpretation is the result of the environment in which the person was brought up and that is where Shakespeare’s universality lies. His plays can reach anyone’s personal universe and it is this chameleonic characteristic that has made him the most preformed playwright of all times.
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About the author
Primary School Teacher and Drama Practioner, Ana Sofia Brito lives with her family in London, UK. She loves writing, cooking and travelling. The Adventures of Clarisse in the Birds Valley is her first novella.