Internet Shakespeare Editions

Shakespeare in India

Sukanta Chaudhuri (Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India)


Renderings of Shakespeare in the south Indian language Kannada might be taken as an allegory of the reception of Shakespeare in India. They often run concurrently on two planes: one is a reader's translation following literary, largely Sanskritic norms of form and diction; the other, a racy stage version with sensational touches, colloquialisms and popular songs. Between them, these two tendencies epitomise much of what happens to Shakespeare in India.

The Shakespearean presence in India is older and more complex than in any other country outside the West. That is owing to India's long colonial history, and the presence of unusually receptive elements in the mother culture. The local culture of most states or regions could absorb Shakespeare within its inherent structure and, in turn, be reshaped and inseminated by Shakespearean influence.

From the mid-19th to the early 20th century, Indian society underwent massive creative interaction with Western thought, art, technology and mores. This was the so-called Indian Renaissance, social and economic no less than artistic and cultural. In whatever small measure compared to the whole, Shakespeare provided the biggest single channel for not only literary or artistic innovations but the underlying transformation of values. 'Channel' is the wrong term. Traits and values were not merely imbibed through or from Shakespeare; to a much greater extent, Indian values and practices were implanted on or even evolved through his work. 'Shakespeare' became the appellation for a commodity and an ethos in a manner comparable only with developments in the West.

We are talking of at least a dozen languages and cultural regions, each ramifying into many social groups and artistic practices, over 200 years and more. We need to map a few paths through the maze: academic study, translation/adaptation, and performance. The paths intersect constantly and are sometimes hard to trace. Academic study leads towards performance and, equally, away from it; translations are made for both the page and the stage. This very intermeshing indicates the importance of each path, how impossible it is to follow one without straying into the others.


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