Academic journal article Shakespeare Bulletin

Shakespeare in Bosnia: Staging Hamlet and Othello in Sarajevo

Academic journal article Shakespeare Bulletin

Shakespeare in Bosnia: Staging Hamlet and Othello in Sarajevo

Article excerpt

Hamlet

Presented by the East West Center at the National Theater, Sarajevo, Bosnia. Summer 2007. Directed by Haris Pasovic. Set by Amir Vuk Zec. Costumes by Kao Pao Shu. Design by Trio. Choreography by Toni Cots. With Amar Selimovic (Hamlet), Damjana Cerne (Gertrude), Frano Maskovic (Claudius), Miodrag Krivokapic (Hamlet's Father's Ghost, Player, Gravedigger), Sabina Bambur (Fortinbras, Player, Gravedigger), Slaven Knezovic (Polonius), Zana Marjanovic (Ophelia), Damir Markovina (Horatio), Aldin Omerovic (Guildenstern), and Armin Catic (Rosencrantz).

Othello

Presented by Chamber Theater 55, Sarajevo, Bosnia. Premiered June 2nd, 2007. Directed by Rahim Burhan. Lights by Elvedin Bajraktarevic and Nino Brutus. Costumes by Arena Kunovac-Zekic. Sound by Edin Hajdarevic and Dina Hajdarevic. With Mirsad Tuka (Othello), Admir Glamocak (Iago), Dzana Pinjo (Desdemona), Mehmed Porca (Cassio), Men Muratovic (Rodrigo), and Mirela Lambie (Emilia).

What does one do with Shakespeare? Another Othello? And, oh my, yet another Hamlet? Of course, nobody needs another one, but we can't really do without another one either and so, luckily, people do bother. But if art is meant to contribute something that was not there before, this requisite is particularly heavy when it comes to staging Hamlet once again. Probably why is always much clearer than how to any director taking on the challenge. As Haris Pasovic (b. 1962, Sarajevo, Bosnia), who recently directed his own version of Hamlet in Sarajevo, put it: "I always knew that one day I would do Hamlet. I lived with Hamlet the way you live with your parents. You love your parents, even if you don't tell them this everyday ... One day I woke up and said: It's time to take on Hamlet."

The impulse is clear enough, but with so many Hamlets having come before, the question must always be: how will you make yours count?

In many ways Pasovic's approach--transposing the story of Hamlet to an Ottoman court, converting the Danish Prince into a Muslim Sultan--does more to articulate the problem than it does to offer a solution: the staging, which is remarkable, and elaborate, seems to keep shrugging at its own ornateness. Is this new enough? But is it also true enough? Even as Hamlet, dressed in the royal attire of an Ottoman Sultan, begins to dance to the sounds of a live oriental band, despite the beauty of the music, despite the sincerity and seriousness of the production, one can still hear that refrain creeping in: What does one do? What does one do?

Part of the problem is, oddly, that Pasovic's Hamlet is such a very good production. It's immensely enjoyable and extremely well acted; smart, loving, and very faithful, even across translation, to the text of Hamlet. Only the titles of characters are changed, Princes become Sultans, and religious references altered to convey a Muslim setting. By every conceivable measure it is an excellent production; hearing the well-known speeches, those high watermarks of civility, spoken in a production that is the joint effort of Croatian, Bosnian, Serbian, and Slovenian artists and governments cannot fail to have its own special resonance here. And the Ottoman setting does, to a large degree, make perfect sense; Hamlet, after all, calls for the structure of empire, since it is the disregard for the supernatural ground of empire that articulates the severity of Claudius's actions and the severity of Hamlet's stupefaction. The Ottoman empire works very well in this regard, taking a related structure and allowing Bosnia to be drawn into the weightiness of Shakespeare's Denmark, in a manner that is both locally and historically resonant, particularly in Sarajevo, Bosnia's capital, which clearly shows the markings of its Ottoman roots (the city's old Turkish core, Bascarija, is sometimes described as a little Istanbul). The play's transposition to a Muslim setting is further relevant within Sarajevo, a multicultural city with a large Muslim population. …

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