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Shakespeare in Hollywood, Asia, and Cyberspace (review)

From: Asian Theatre Journal
Volume 28, Number 1, Spring 2011
pp. 267-269 | 10.1353/atj.2011.0013

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As scholarly interest in "foreign Shakespeare" has exploded since Dennis Kennedy's pioneering book nearly twenty years ago, it has become commonplace to consider non-English and postcolonial Shakespeares as appropriations that either unsettle or reaffirm Western hegemony based on the degree to which they disrupt conventional meanings of the text. In light of the rise of globalized media and Asian economic power, however, this volume moves us past such a binary paradigm to interrogate the multivalent exchanges that "Shakespeare" enables, tracing cross-currents among multiple Asian and Western countries in theatrical performance, digital/film media, and scholarship. The key questions, then, are not what Shakespeare "means" in new contexts, nor how other cultures' performances illuminate or challenge his texts. Instead, as Alexander Huang and Charles Ross propose in their introduction, we are to inquire how these encounters define and transform their participants: "On what terms do transnational Shakespeares animate and redirect the traffic between different geo-cultural or virtual realities?" (pp. 1-2) Rather than asserting a generalized answer, however, this collection provides an array of case studies, inviting us to consider the specificity of each while drawing our own connections.

Indeed, the great strength of this collection is its kaleidoscopic variety, featuring twenty-three essays by young as well as established scholars, working from a diverse range of countries, disciplines, and methodologies. As scholars in Asia and the United States research both local and international performance sites, the global flows of Shakespearean material prove complex and multidirectional. Occasionally the result privileges the "universal" qualities of Shakespeare: Mei Zhu, for example, comparing Zeffirelli's Taming of the Shrew to screwball comedy, concludes that "[Shakespeare's] plays are neither limited to one period nor one place, not for an age, but for all time" (p. 24). Yet, overall the value of "Shakespeare" emerges not as intrinsic but as contingent and contested. Supporting Huang and Ross's goal to "reinvent the interpretive energy by destabilizing conventionalized interpretations of 'Shakespeare' and its Others—past, present, and to come" (p. 2), the contributors highlight the original purposes for which the Bard is deployed in contexts that are at once local and global, uncovering the often surprising repercussions of these encounters. When Evan Darwin Winet records the "outrage" of Indonesian reviewers upon hearing a new, colloquial translation of Hamlet (p. 178), and Adele Lee describes Shakespearean performance in postcolonial Hong Kong as "static, highly canonical, and moribund" due to a common desire to cling to Britishness in the face of China's communist policies (p. 197), we see that convention and innovation in Shakespearean production are anything but binaries along neat Western-Eastern lines.

Though the essays are divided into the three categories that the title suggests, there is substantial overlap, further indicating their interrelatedness. Part 1, "Shakespeare in Hollywood," features analyses of US film versions of the plays, primarily by students from China and Taiwan. As film is treated as a form of cultural adaptation, we are encouraged to examine how each artistic choice reflects and shapes specific sociocultural values. Additionally, the feminist slant of many of these contributions highlights the importance of the viewer's standpoint in constructing meaning.

Part 2, "Shakespeare in Asia," forms the bulk of this collection, with thirteen essays addressing live performance, film, and text. Although China and Japan receive the most attention, this section also provides exciting accounts of engagement with Shakespeare by countries seldom studied in this context: Malaysia, Cambodia, and Indonesia, for example. Nurul Farhana Low bt Abdullah's essay "Bangsawan Shakespeare in Colonial Malaya" is particularly fascinating, describing how indigenous performers adapted tragedies into a popular comic form that poked fun at the English administration while avoiding its censure (and earning a profit). Also of note is Huang's insightful essay "The Visualization of Metaphor in Two Chinese Versions of Macbeth," which analyzes how Shakespeare's verbal images translate into the visual medium of Chinese opera. This essay encapsulates many of the themes of the collection as he invites readers to view such processes as part of "a paradigm shift from seeking authenticity to foregrounding artistic subjectivity" (p. 104). Rather than one culture appropriating another, these acts of translation challenge both the original text...

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