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Research in African Literatures 33.1 (2002) 218-220

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Book Review

Post-Colonial Shakespeares

Post-Colonial Shakespeares, ed. Ania Loomba and Martin Orkin. London: Routledge, 1998. xi + 308pp. ISBN 0-415-17387-6.

In the 1975-76 academic year when I was a first-year student at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, final-year English honors students never tired of telling us how lucky we were that we would not have to struggle with a year-long, nine-credit course on Shakespeare in our final year. The revised curriculum then recently adopted in the department, we were told, had done away with that albatross of a c(o)urse and we had them to thank for it. They had waged a struggle, they claimed rather more grandiosely, to [End Page 218] decolonize and "de-Shakespearize" the curriculum of the English Department. We could therefore look forward to a glorious final year, free of the Shakespeare course. For us, postcolonial students of English in an African university, the fear of Shakespeare, it seemed, was the beginning of wisdom.

In the event, we did not have to do that particular course which was splintered into courses with less threatening names such as English Drama, Elizabethan Drama, and so on. But then, we still had to plod through the English Epic and wrestle with the arcane structures and spellings of Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the Faerie Queene. Strangely enough, these did not strike us with as much fear as the Shakespeare course. The reason for this, I believe, was quite simple. Beyond his canonical status in English departments, colonial education conferred on Shakespeare a cultural authority that bordered on the sacrosanct. The very idea that Shakespeare's texts could be implicated in anything as gross as imperialism or political ideology was seen as cultural philistinism at its worst. While we could take liberties with political and ideological interpretations or even plain "misreadings" of other texts, Shakespeare's could brook no such disrespect.

The publication of Post-Colonial Shakespeares is therefore a welcome event for those of us who received our education in these circumstances. The book, a collection of critical essays from a 1996 Johannesburg conference on Shakespeare and postcoloniality, furthers attempts to develop a critical dialogue between Shakespeare studies and the theory and practice of postcolonialism. The volume features essays that explore Shakespeare from a variety of critical sites ranging from discourses of race, gender, and nation to the politics of location. Its two-part structure provides a temporal dimension. The first part largely concentrates on Shakespeare within the context of his times and the emergent discourses of the early modern period, while the second focuses on Shakespeare in the context of our times. The contributions run an enlightening gamut from Jonathan Burton's survey of the links between Leo Africanus's Geographical Historie of Africa and Shakespeare's Othello toAnia Loomba's analysis of issues of location and hybridity in an Indian Kathakali theater production of the same play. It is interesting to read Martin Orkin's essay on the emancipatory uses to which Shakespeare's plays can be put in contemporary South Africa in conjunction with David Johnson's examination of the impact of the IMF/World Bank structural adjustment policies on education in Africa and his interrogation of figurations of postcolonial Shakespeares within this post IMF/World Bank context of a highly diminished role for Shakespeare in the curriculum. Several other chapters explore the overlaps between Shakespeare, gender and race, land and nation, colonialism and psychoanalysis. Terence Hawkes and Jonathan Dollimore each make a cameo appearance, so to speak, to round off the first and second parts of the volume with a chapter on "Bryn Glas" and "Shakespeare and theory," respectively.

The editors, Ania Loomba and Martin Orkin, provide a comprehensive introduction that spells out the objectives of the volume and places the [End Page 219] essays within the context of postcolonial studies and recent developments in critical theory and practice that have had a shaping influence on our ways of thinking about issues of subjectivity and culture. It...


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