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Bastardizing the bard: Appropriations of Shakespeare's plays in postcolonial India

Parmita Kapadia, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Shakespeare's dramatic work occupies a strange and double-edged position in the Indian literary consciousness. On the one hand, it is a colonial text that the British imported to India as a tool to illustrate proper 'moral' behavior to their Indian subjects. On the other hand, it has taken on a decidedly Indian identity, an identity marked by the post-colonial conditions of hybridity, subversion, and negotiation. As a result, the Shakespeare industry as it exists in contemporary India is a multifaceted and even contradictory institution. In this dissertation, I study how Indian directors and scholars have appropriated and adapted the Shakespeare canon to suit their individual needs. In the latter part of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth, the continued teaching of English literature resulted in a growing class of hybrid Indians who, by their successful absorption of English education and culture, persisted in fracturing colonial authority. In "Signs Taken for Wonders: Questions of Ambivalence and Authority Under a Tree Outside Delhi, May 1817," Homi Bhabha argues that these subjects articulate a discourse that subverts and alters the colonial status quo through intervention. Subversion and intervention articulated through forms of mimicry offer limited alternatives to colonial subjugation. I have found that Indian productions and interpretation of Shakespeare engage in such mimicry, simultaneously asserting and disrupting colonial authority. Infusing the English texts with Indian concerns both challenges colonial authority and articulates post-colonial realities. Indian appropriations of Shakespeare's drama are not new, post-colonial phenomena. During the colonial period, the plays were often used to explore cultural and political tensions. Today, Shakespeare's plays serve as vehicles to investigate the realities of post-colonial existence. Shakespeare productions, particularly those staged in English, best represent the multiple, ambiguous, hybrid, and hyphenated realities and identities of post-1947 India. The cross-culturation that marks this growing genre situates Western, canonical texts within the dual institutions of Indian theater and literary criticism. Shakespeare has, in effect, become an Indian commodity.

Subject Area

British and Irish literature|Theater|South Asian Studies

Recommended Citation

Kapadia, Parmita, "Bastardizing the bard: Appropriations of Shakespeare's plays in postcolonial India" (1997). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9737547.