Shakespeare in the Bush
While spending time with the elders of a tiny area in west Africa, American anthropologist Laura Bohannon encounters difficulty while attempting to tell the story of Hamlet, as she must navigate through the problems of a limited knowledge of the local language and cultural differences which change the way in which the elders understand the story. Through the elders’ commentary during her story, Bohannon realizes that although the story was universal enough for those listening to intuit what was about to happen, their way of life caused a difference in their reception and understanding of the story.
‘“No,” pronounced the old man, speaking less to me than to the young men sitting behind the elders. “If your father’s brother has killed your father, you must appeal to your father’s age mates: they may avenge him. No man may use violence against his senior relatives.” Another thought struck him. “But if his father’s brother had indeed been wicked enough to bewitch Hamlet and make him mad that would be a good story indeed, for it would be his fault that Hamlet, being mad, no longer had any sense and thus was ready to kill his father’s brother.”
There was a murmur of applause. Hamlet was again a good story to them, but it no longer seemed quite the same story to me.”
Shakespeare Without His Language
“English-speakers are apt to assume that foreign-language productions necessarily lose an essential element of Shakespeare in the process of linguistic and cultural transfer, and of course this is true. But it is also true, as I am suggesting, that some foreign performances may have a more direct access to the power of the plays. In this respect the modernity of translation is crucial… A foreign language, while missing the full value of the verse, can be said to have an advantage of great significance in the theatre.”
“…what is anathema in English is fact of life elsewhere.”
“There is no one conclusion to draw from all of this, except that foreign Shakespeare is more present than ever before, interrogating the idea that Shakespeare can be contained by a single tradition or by a single culture or by a single language. Perhaps the native familiarity that English-speakers assume for Shakespeare is part of a larger illusion, which might be called the myth of cultural ownership. In the end Shakespeare doesn’t belong to any nation or anybody: Shakespeare is foreign to us all.”