Academic journal article Multicultural Shakespeare

Macbeth in Nineteenth-Century Bengal: A Case of Conflicted Indigenization

Academic journal article Multicultural Shakespeare

Macbeth in Nineteenth-Century Bengal: A Case of Conflicted Indigenization

Article excerpt

Abstract: Adaptation, a complex bilingual and bicultural process, is further problematised in a colonial scenario inflected by burgeoning nationalism and imperialist counter-oppression. Nagendranath Bose's Karnabir (1884/85), the second extant Bengali translation of Macbeth was written after the First War of Indian Independence in 1857 and its aftermath - the formation of predominantly upper and middle class nationalist organisations that spearheaded the freedom movement. To curb anti-colonial activities in the cultural sphere, the British introduced repressive measures like the Theatre Censorship Act and the Vernacular Press Act. Bengal experienced a revival of Hinduism paradoxically augmented by the nationalist ethos and the divisive tactics of British rule that fostered communalism. This article investigates the contingencies and implications of domesticating and othering Macbeth at this juncture and the collaborative/oppositional strategies of the vernacular text vis-à-vis colonial discourse. The generic problems of negotiating tragedy in a literary tradition marked by its absence are compounded by the socio-linguistic limitations of a Sanskritised adaptation. The conflicted nature of the cultural indigenisation evidenced in Karnabir is explored with special focus on the nature of generic, linguistic and religious acculturation, issues of nomenclature and epistemology, as well as the political and ideological negotiations that the target text engages in with the source text and the intended audience.

Keywords: Macbeth, Nagendranath Bose, colonial Bengal, adaptation, literary and linguistic communalism

Adaptation, a complex bilingual and bicultural process, is further problematised in a colonial scenario particularly inflected by burgeoning nationalism and imperialist counter-oppression. Nagendranath Bose's Karnabir (1884/85), the second extant Bengali adaptation of Macbeth was written after the First War of Indian Independence in 1857.2 In its wake came the formation of predominantly upper and middle class nationalist organizations that spearheaded the freedom movement. To curb anti-colonial activities in the cultural sphere, the British introduced repressive measures like the Theatre Censorship Act (1876) and the Vernacular Press Act (1878). Bengal experienced a revival of Hinduism paradoxically augmented by the nationalist ethos and the divisive tactics of British rule that fostered communalism.3 This article proposes to investigate the contingencies and implications of domesticating and othering Macbeth at this juncture and the collaborative/ oppositional strategies of the vernacular text visà- vis colonial discourse. The generic problems of negotiating tragedy in a literary tradition marked by its absence are compounded by the socio-linguistic limitations of a Sanskritised adaptation. The latter testifies the translator's desire to coalesce the nationalist and the communal agenda in his project. The conflicted nature of the cultural indigenization in Karnabir is evidenced particularly in the nature of generic, linguistic and religious acculturation, issues of nomenclature and epistemology, as well as the political and ideological negotiations that the target text engages in with the source text and the intended audience.

Urban Bengali Theatre

The urban Bengali theatre of the nineteenth century had three converging legacies - the academic foregrounding of Shakespearean texts, the European style theatres set up by the British in Calcutta for their own recreation, and the indigenous amateur attempts by the "enlightened" bhadraloks to modernise the Bengali stage.

Shakespeare was an integral part of the English curriculum since its inception, 4 even before Macaulay's Minute (1835) emphasised the bard's inclusion, arguing that it would inculcate an indelible belief in the superiority of the masters' literature and by extension of all things British. Shakespeare's central location in the colonial project was further privileged by nominating the most reputed teacher of an establishment like David Lester Richardson and Derozio of Hindu College to teach his works, and Shakespeare came to be regarded as the most prestigious assignment. …

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