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Reviewed by:
  • Shakespeare in Asia: Contemporary Performance
  • Tom Bishop (bio)
Shakespeare in Asia: Contemporary Performance. Edited by Dennis Kennedy and Yong Li Lan. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Illus. Pp. xiv + 290. $100.00 cloth.

This collection of essays is an invigorating conversation on its subject. In its array of arguments and examples about recent performances of Shakespeare in a wide range of Asian traditions, it can serve as an advanced introduction for those interested in an emerging area of criticism. Many readers coming to the collection will not be familiar with the materials addressed. It is therefore a strength of the essays assembled that they provide a selection of both histories and examples of Shakespeare’s adoption by Asian theater and other performances, broadly construed, and that the divergent character and implications of these adoptions are carefully analyzed, beginning with the editors’ excellent introduction. The quite different patterns of contact, response, and assimilation of Shakespeare through polities and performances in Indian, Chinese, and Japanese traditions (the major orientation points) are carefully registered, so that the collection unfolds as a progressive education, a widening of engagement, and a series of perspectives. Necessary and helpful summaries of the complex histories of theatrical appropriation of Shakespeare are provided by Fei Chunfang and Sun Huizhu and by Shen Lin (for China) and by Suematsu Michiko (for Japan). A similar overview for Indian theatrical traditions would have been welcome, but the quite different relation of subcontinental history to colonial enterprises and the considerable complexity of Indian theatrical traditions would have made that a challenging task. Other aspects of these histories are filled in by contributors, such as the history of Japanese translation by Daniel Gallimore or the survey of Indian film by Richard Burt, while a discussion of the significance of variant histories across “Asia”—a category regularly and productively worried by the volume—takes up part of Dennis Kennedy and Yong Li Lan’s introduction. Both “Shakespeare” and “Asia” and even the preposition that joins them in the volume’s title are vigorously destabilized by Rustom Barucha in the final essay. [End Page 290]

One of the volume’s notable features is the way in which discussions of key productions, often quite different, recur throughout. This allows readers not only to acquaint themselves in some detail—including questions of performance style and institutional affiliation—with several important contemporary performances, but also to contrast the viewpoints of commentators who cite them. Ong Keng Sen’s Lear (1997) and his Desdemona (2002) are discussed by both Yong Li Lan and Barucha; Lin Zhaohua’s Richard III and Wu Hsing-Kuo’s Li Er Zai Ci (a version of King Lear) are analyzed separately by Li Ruru and John W. Phillips (with Li Er Zai Ci mentioned briefly by other contributors) in essays with strongly contrasting views on their significance and value. The differences in interpretive approach and evaluation are highly illuminating of the larger stakes in constructing or refusing various possible “Asian Shakespeares.”

Besides such points of interaction, the essays discuss a wide range of materials across Asian countries and performance communities in which Shakespearean elements have been employed. In addition to big-budget productions by international directors and smaller performances that have become famous by being taken up in Western critical discussion, such as the Kathakali Othello, topics include solo performances in the Rodoku recitation tradition of Japan, Japanese shojo manga (graphic novels for girls) and takarazuka (all-female song-and-dance musicals), Indian films incorporating Shakespearean intertexts, and experimental productions from the Japanese Shogekijo movement and the Beijing People’s Art Theatre. This breadth of discussion is indicative of the variety of purposes, levels, and styles in which the large and loaded authority of Shakespeare has been mobilized, a capacity which is severally discussed. If compassing this breadth is sometimes a challenge, it also fairly delineates the field’s necessary scope.

Happily, Kennedy and Yong do not attempt to summarize or assimilate this variety to a prescriptive framework. They explicitly refuse an “area studies” model, arguing that such a choice would impose categorical boundaries compromised by an outdated bipolar politics and be incapable of responding to the complexities the collection...


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pp. 290-292
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