Programme held to mark Shakespeare's 400 years -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Programme held to mark Shakespeare’s 400 years

Pakistan Press Foundation

KARACHI: Imagine Hamlet’s father’s ghost appearing in a toilet bowl and talking to his son in a clumsy way! Or a scene from Julius Cesar in which some men are seen wielding automatic weapons instead of swords!

This was the kind of innovative spirit with which an event was held at the British Council on Friday evening as part of the celebrations of 400 years of William Shakespeare.

The programme began with a rather effusive introduction by moderator of the event Framji Minwalla to Shakespeare and how he surfaced as a major playwright in the Restoration period rather than in his own time. But the academic tone of Mr Minwalla’s speech give way to an uplifting, contemporary mood as soon as the four short videos of modern-day adaptations of snippets from Shakespeare’s plays were shown. They began with Miranda’s Letter (a story inspired by ‘The Tempest’, followed by The Prince of Denmark (‘Hamlet’) and Colonel Blimp (‘Julius Caesar’), and ending with the song Under the Greenwood Tree (‘As You Like It’).

The videos were extremely engaging in terms of construing Shakespeare’s works in the 21st century, especially the satirical take on Hamlet pleasantly surprised the audience where a plump young man in a rotten household finds it difficult to see his mother with his uncle and sees his father’s face in a toilet bowl.

After the screening, one of the panelists, Rosemary Hilhorst, country director British Council, said the motivation behind the videos (from the project called Shakespeare Lives 2016) was to look at Shakespeare as what he meant today. She said they particularly looked for young, cutting edge UK artists from different fields and asked them if they liked to do two to three-minute videos of Shakespeare to re-imagine him today.

She said the project started early this year and very different interpretations came up. She said one of the aims was to try and attract young audiences to Shakespeare because for them his was a difficult language and probably “three or four hours of sitting down”.

Ms Hilhorst said after 400 years, the stories and themes (power, justice, human relationships) that Shakespeare was writing about were still relevant. She said the project, which had become a global exercise, would end by end of this year. She said Shakespeare was born and died on the same day (April 23) but the celebrations couldn’t last for one day because there was much more to him. She said Shakespeare Lives 2016 was just one example of what was happening around the world.

The second panelist, Lynette Viccaji, who teaches at Cedar College, said Shakespeare’s greatness was a problem because once you had canonised someone you stopped looking them in the eye. Many teachers, she said, thought of Shakespeare as someone sacred, not to be questioned, which discouraged critical thinking. She said she was once teaching Romeo and Juliet and her class thought that Romeo was a loser and Juliet a desperate female. She said she initially said it was inappropriate but later realised that they were expressing a valid point. Romeo was a bit of a loser who switched from Rosaline to Juliet in an instant and irrationally entered a sword fight killing his beloved’s cousin. Juliet married Romeo the second day she met him, which, she said, sounded desperate. She said: “Once students feel that their opinion is validated, they begin to own the text.”

Ms Viccaji said the second problem was that Shakespeare’s words were often taken out of context and revered as indisputable wisdom. She said the third issue was that Shakespeare was considered as a highbrow writer only accessible to a few intellectuals, whereas groundlings of his time did not think so. She said only when Shakespeare was brought down from his pedestal that the depth of his work could be appreciated.

Replying to a question on the role of teachers in teaching Shakespeare, Ms Viccaji acknowledged the part her teacher, the late Dr Kalimur Rehman, played in her understanding of the Bard. She said the way he used to say ‘Tis bitter cold and I’m sick at heart’ (from Hamlet) made her understand the whole play.