Colonial Narratives/Cultural Dialogues: Discoveries of India in the Language of Colonialism

By Jyotsna G. Singh | Go to book overview

Chapter 4

Shakespeare and the “civilizing mission”

I

Quantities of baboos [Bengalis] were applauding on the back of their books…[at a performance of Macbeth]. The native generation who have been brought up at Hindu College are perfectly mad about Shakespeare. What a triumph it is for him, dear creature!

(Emily Eden, Letters from India, 1837-40, II:264-5)

Indian Empire, or no Indian Empire; we cannot do without Shakespeare! Indian Empire will go, at any rate, some day, but this Shakespeare does not go, he lasts forever with us.

(Thomas Carlyle 1840:109)

Imagine the social scene of nineteenth-century Calcutta where the agents of the British Raj had established a society in a faithful imitation of the “mother” country. Numerous impressions left by the journals and memoirs of the rulers testify to the gaiety, splendor, and extravagance of life in British Calcutta, which one writer later recalled as “happy days, more than half a century ago” (Taylor 1882:92). Among the round of social activities, theater-going was a popular pastime, and one that reflected the expatri-ates’ anxiety to imitate the cultural practices of London, as Fanny Parkes describes in Wanderings of a Pilgrim:

Chowringhee Theatre was in the height of its celebrity. This was an institution established and kept up by private parties, but which in the excellent acting it exhibited, and the admirable management by which it was conducted, was equal to many of the minor theatres in London and superior to most provincial theatres. Seldom or ever was there so efficient a body of amateur actors as those who were in Calcutta assembled in 1829.

-120-

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