Shakespeare in the Bush
An anthropologist encounters many difficulties trying to tell the story of Hamlet to a West African tribe due to cultural differences. The Tiv tribe do not understand the concept of a ghost, believing rather in bad omens summoned by witchcraft; they do believe Gertrude’s quick marriage to Claudius is the right thing to do; and they do not believe Hamlet should be held accountable for his actions because his madness clearly could only have been brought upon him by a bad omen, which would not be his fault. Ultimately, the story of Hamlet becomes less about vengeance and honor, and more about making logical decisions, which reflects the audience’s practical culture and lifestyle.
“One can easily misinterpret the universal by misunderstanding the particular” (1).
“We, who are elders, will instruct you in [your stories’] true meaning, so that when you return to your own land your elders will see that you have not been sitting in the bush, but among those who know things and who have taught you wisdom” (10).
Shakespeare Without His Language
Shakespeare’s language is considered an enhancing characteristic of his plays in English, whereas foreign translations of his works modernize the language to make it more accessible. But removing this distinctive quality allows the plays to move beyond timeless universal themes and instead serve as timely social commentary. In the postwar era, individuals such as Jan Kott felt Shakespeare was better suited as a “dramatist of pain” that emphasized cruel fate, while Robert Weimann viewed it as a platform to incite change.
“[W]hat is anathema in English is a fact of life elsewhere” (6).
“Kott … assumes without question that every one of his readers will at some point or other have been woken by the police in the middle of the night” (9).