A Bard for Every Nation

Othello and Desdemona. Kathakali artistes perform Shakespeare

Othello and Desdemona. Kathakali artistes perform Shakespeare

I had anticipated that being in India on Saturday 23rd April this year would mean that I would miss all of the events and interest surrounding the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. I would however, imagine that  if anyone from outside of the UK was asked to name the most significant literary figure from our country, Shakespeare would, quite rightly, appear at the top of the list. As someone who loves theatre, literature and language I would most certainly concur with this judgement. However, in believing that this most quintessentially English of playwrights might have been pushed to the sidelines in India, a country that is the birthplace of more than a few excellent dramatist; Ramavriksha Benipuri , Rabindranath Tagore and M.Gopala Krishna Iyer  to name but three,  I was most definitely underestimating the reverence afforded to Shakespeare in this country that has such a fine literary heritage.

Unlike my previous trips to India, I can honestly say that to my surprise, Shakespeare has featured significantly during much of this most recent journey. This immersion in the works of the great bard began even before my arrival in the country. To my delight, on perusing the entertainment system on board the flight from Birmingham, I discovered a number of recordings of Shakespeare’s plays performed at the Globe Theatre in London and available to help with overcoming the tedium associated with a long haul flight. Between Birmingham and Bangalore, and then again on the return flight I was able to enjoy performances of Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and even Henry VIII, this latter being a play I had never previously seen performed.

Once in Bangalore the Shakespeare theme continued as I noted that there have been several performances of the great man’s work in Indian cities to mark this anniversary of his demise. On the actual day of celebrations, the Hindu newspaper carried a number of articles about Shakespeare, including reports of events planned to be held in London, Stratford-upon-Avon and in various parts of India. There was also an article about an Emeritus Professor in Mysore who has a great passion for the Elizabethan dramatist and a huge collection of books and other artefacts associated with the great man and his story. During the evening of the 23rd April, a filmed version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was broadcast on an Indian television channel, and international celebrations were reported on the television news. The respect in which Shakespeare is clearly held in India was fascinating to see and is perhaps one of the most positive aspects of English influence upon the country.

I suppose I should not have been so surprised to find this important Shakespearian anniversary being acknowledged here in Bangalore, having once seen an entertaining production of Macbeth at the Valley School near here, and also in company with my young friend Varsha having attended a somewhat surreal and satirical one man show called “Nothing Like Lear” performed in a Bangalore theatre.

Having noted that the Shakespeare commemorations would coincide with my April visit this year, I had planned a small celebration of my own to enjoy with students on our MA course. Thus it was that on this most auspicious occasion, after my far from professional efforts at reciting what is probably Shakespeare’s most celebrated sonnet (number 18), which begins with the oft quoted line “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”  we all indulged ourselves by consuming a magnificent chocolate cake. My audience were evenly divided between those who loved Shakespeare when encountered in their school years, and those who found the archaic English language impenetrable.  I am far from convinced that my own inadequate rendition of a Shakespeare sonnet will have done much to change the minds of the detractors, but I do know that the provision of chocolate cake was popular with all in attendance.

And should you think that Shakespeare and a chocolate cake are too much of a distraction from the serious business of study for a higher degree, I will call up the great bard in my defence:

                                                     “Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?”

Sir Toby Belch. Twelfth Night. Act 2, Scene 3.


Whilst my performance of Shakespeare would not have won any plaudits, the quality of the chocolate cake was greatly appreciated by all!

Whilst my performance of Shakespeare would not have won any plaudits, the quality of the chocolate cake was greatly appreciated by all!