Academic journal article Multicultural Shakespeare

Shakespeare on the Peking Opera Stage

Academic journal article Multicultural Shakespeare

Shakespeare on the Peking Opera Stage

Article excerpt

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Successful Peking Opera adaptations of Shakespeare1 have attracted interest of theater-goers, both enthusiasts and connoisseurs, who have been able to approach Shakespeare in the form that they like and are used to. For the intermingling elements of traditional Chinese opera and Shakespearean themes or stories, on another level, some adaptations have received applause from Shakespeare lovers, who enjoy the formal attractions of Peking Opera through the familiar Shakespeare stories. For such contrastive elements as Shakespeare and Chinese opera to co-exist in the end product, the adaptation must be a transforming process, in which for each element to be valid in the product, it must also be malleable. In all the adaptation cases, transformation has taken place on both sides of the adaptation: the "source" text and the adapting form. Thus, our concerns about such adaptations should go beyond the traditionalist suspect about Shakespeare's adaptability in Peking Opera or the bardolatrist doubt that Peking Opera adaptation of Shakespeare can still be Shakespeare. What we want to ask is in what ways transformation can be viable in the intertextual practice of cross-cultural, cross-generic, and cross-media adaptation.

Intertextuality in Chinese Adaptation of Shakespeare

Here I would see an adaptation as a text and borrow the Kristeva's term of intertexuality as any text is "a permutation of texts, an intertextuality" (36) and appropriate the term in evaluating Shakespeare adaptations in a traditional Chinese opera form. On the one hand, the key notion in the Kristevan term of intertexuality is applicable to inter-cultural adaptation. The notion must be elaborated, on the other hand, in order for it to be fully usable in a cultural context in which cultural forms, such as Chinese drama and especially Peking Opera, have been influenced by hetero-philosophical conceptions of life and drama. When we read adaptations as texts, we detect both axes2 of the textual formation in Peking opera adaptations: the author-reader connection through the bridging by the adapting artists between Shakespeare's foreign text and Chinese audiences and the text-to-text connection between Shakespeare's work and the Chinese product in a different genre. The gap between the "author" and the text, as translated or adapted, has been bridged by the adapter, who is actually the speaker to contemporary audience in the Peking opera theatre. This essay will examine how the Chinese adaptations transform both the Shakespearean text and the opera form.

To begin with, Peking Opera adapters must deal with the contrastive notions in Shakespeare's drama and Chinese opera before they look for the common ground or similarities for a viable way of integrating these hetero-natured elements. They demonstrate diverse understandings of the relationship between life and drama and thus use different dramaturgical ways of representation. The Peking Opera tells stories and represents life by exteriorizing the interior, that is, emotions of characters while Shakespeare's plays are comparatively more realistic and mimic life in a closed structure. This contrast reflects the different notions of drama. The Chinese dramatic aesthetics stresses poetic expressions of life. As a result, ways of expression or formal nuances are more important than the content or what is expressed; whereas, western drama as influenced by Aristotle's poetics, with Shakespeare as the best exemplar, imitate life in realistic representations. A Chinese tragedy, for example, is not to engender fear and pity, but teaches a moral lesson with or without the hero's death. Accordingly, death and sadness or other strong emotions are symbolically represented with dances, singings, acrobatics, and martial arts so that audiences are always fascinated by the artistic performances. As put by Lan, "in Chinese tragedies, the emotions are excited by the outer style (the exquisite techniques) so that formal aesthetics is more appreciated than the content" (591). …

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