When the American colonists renounced all things British and struck out on their own, determined to re-invent all aspects of their literature, art and culture, they could not, however, forfeit their allegiance to two mainstays of British intellectual experience- the Bible and Shakespeare. Indeed, Shakespeare’s plays, read, performed or quoted, remain a major legacy America has, in all the four centuries since its break-away, never disavowed. On the other hand, an enthusiasm for the Shakespearean oeuvre, in however morphed a form, has permeated almost all aspects of the American experience, aesthetic, intellectual or secular. While the most significant of American writers have been thematically, philosophically, or poetically inspired by Shakespeare to the extent of breaking new ground in Shakespeare-criticism, illustrators of Shakespeare’s texts have found a ready viewership in America. When, for instance, interest in Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery- illustrations of Shakespeare’s plays by major artists, the American painter Benjamin West not excluded- dwindled in England, the copperplate engravings were refurbished and exhibited in America. In a lighter vein, American politicians, down to the level of street-corner haranguers, have whetted their wits on the touchstone of Shakespeare for the longest time. This is not, of course, to gainsay the genuine love for Shakespeare and for performances of his plays which the greatest among them, Abraham Lincoln above all, exhibited.
Our annual seminar was spun around the theme of Shakespeare and/in America, and attempted to consider it from a chosen few of the diverse angles of approach possible. Staging and performance were highlighted as a matter of course, since the staging of Shakespeare’s plays had been ingrained in both popular and elitist culture on the new continent. Speakers had, in particular, focused on Yiddish and African-American versions. But that there could be a fusion of Jazz music, pre-eminently a dominant genre in American popular culture, and Shakespearean drama was a subject researched in an interesting paper. Nor was Shakespeare criticism in America, notably the school of New Historicism, an area neglected .
This issue of JUSAS-Online carries a selection of papers read at the seminar as also the script of a performance staged as a postscript to it by students of the Department of English, Jadavpur University. Taking the most American of Shakespeare’s plays written allegedly with source -material drawn from the adventures that befell the Sea Venture, the the flagship of an English fleet sailing for Jamestown in 1609 , the students have deconstructed and reconstructed The Tempest and presented their own scripted version.
This issue contains the following papers:
The Plight of Prospero: The Script of the Performance – written and directed by Trisha Ray
The Cultural Evolution of Performance: Representing Shakespeare through Jazz – Pramantha Mohun Tagore
Challenging Stereotypes Across Race and Religion: Ira Aldridge and Giuseppe Verdi as Interpreters of Shakespeare’s Venetian Plays – Suddhaseel Sen
Dimensions, Senses, Affections, Passions: Shylock on the American Yiddish Stage – Abhishek Sarkar
“Black Adam in White Eden”: The Africanist Presence in American Shakespeare Productions – Sukla Basu Sen
From Renaissance Shakes-fashioning to Will in America: Re-reading Stephen Greenblatt – Niranjan Goswami