The Bard of Avon has broken all the barriers: left, right and centre. He has been rediscovered by the world. Most of the English departments have thrashed Shakespeare, where his plays have been removed from the course syllabus. However, Shakespeare now lives in the heart of the people.
The famous Polish theatre scholar and critic Jan Kott, in his famous and significant work Shakespeare: Our Contemporary, published in 1965 wrote, “Shakespeare is like the world, or life itself. Every historical period finds in him what it is looking for and what it wants to see…”
(Jan Kott, Shakespeare: Our Contemporary, 1965.)
It seems that in the twenty-first century India, Jan Kott is very right. It is very natural too for a nation whose people have been brought up from the very childhood about listening and reading majestic Shakespeare and his immortal quotes and his works. Due to erroneous education policy and colonial bhakts in India, Bard of Avon is more popular than Kalidass or Vyasa. However, for academician, he is only a ceremonial attraction, only a showpiece to make discussions spicy.
“The truth is that Shakespeare, by revealing his whole mind to us, has given us just cause to complain that his mind is not small enough to be comprehended with ease. It is man’s most settled habits when he meets with anything that is new and strange, to be unhappy until he has named it, to be forever at rest.”
(Walter Raleigh, Shakespeare, Macmillan And Co., Limited, St. Martin Street, London, 1953, pp.17-18.)
However, Shakespeare cannot be discovered in books and lectures. His never-ending popularity in India can be judged by the fact that his numbers of plays have been adapted as popular films by famous filmmakers. For example ‘Omkara’, made in 2006, is a film adapted from Shakespeare’s Othello, co-written and directed by Vishal Bhardwaj. It starred Ajay Devgn, Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor in the lead role, supported by Vivek Oberoi, Konkona Sen Sharma and Bipasha Basu.
“To the thinking mind of the divorce of unusual intellect from goodness is a thing to startle, and Shakespeare clearly felt it so. The combination of unusual intellect with extreme evil is more than startling, it is frightful.”
(A.C.Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy, Macmillan And Co., Limited, St. Martin Street, London, 1952, p.237.)
‘Haider’ is another film made in 2014 and based on Hamlet by William Shakespeare. The film is again written, produced and directed by Vishal Bhardwaj, and co-written by Basharat Peer. It stars Shahid Kapoor and co-stars Tabu, Shraddha Kapoor and Kay Kay Menon, Irfan khan appears in an extended special appearance.
“What false impressions are conveyed in the phrases which we have to use to express the process whereby Shakespeare converted the stocks and stones of the old dramas and chronicles into the living, breathing men and women?”
(A.W.Verity, Macbeth, Cambridge, At The University Press, 1952, p.xxii.)
‘Maqbool’ is also based on Hamlet by William Shakespeare. It was also written and directed by Vishal Bhardwaj. The crime and intrigues of the Shakespearean tragedy Macbeth are transposed to the Mumbai underworld. Macbeth meets the Godfather in present-day Bombay. The Scottish tragedy set in the contemporary underworld of India’s commercial capital; two corrupt, fortune telling policemen take the roles of the weird sisters, and Duncan is Abbaji, the head of a crime family. Abbaji’s mistress and Maqbool plot and carry out his death; the sea plays the role of Birnham wood, written by James McLeod.
Another movie Karz is a famous and popular 1980s Indian Hindi-language thriller film, directed by Subhash Ghai, starring Rishi Kapoor and Tina Munim as leads, also starring Simi Garewal, in the critically acclaimed role of Kamini Verma. The storyline is also influenced by the plot of Shakespearean Hamlet in which murder, rebirth, revenge and ghost story is there. ‘Khoon Ka Khoon’ directed by Sohrab Modi is inspired by Hamlet. “The story of Hamlet has a long history. It has evidently provided entertainment for a great variety of readers and listeners in many countries.”
(Nigel Alexander, Hamlet, Macmillan Education Ltd, Basingstoke and London, p.8.)
‘Angoor’ written by Gulzar is based on Comedy of Errors. ‘Do Dooni Char’, directed by Bimal Roy is also inspired by Comedy of Errors. After the movies and theatres, now, Manga comics are written, inspired by the plays of Bard. Nearly more than four century years on, the magic of Bard of Avon is more and more strong.
Not only the films but also the works and plays of Shakespeare have also been highly popular and being adapted in theatres, fictions and lecture rooms. In every university and board syllabus, Shakespeare has been an inseparable part. In this way, he has silently entered our thinking and life and become a part of our intellect and psyche. He has been inspiring generations of academics, writers, filmmakers, leaders across the world.
Shakespeare is very truly an inseparable part of all the big and famous names in India and their political-legal and socio-cultural perception and awareness. Even judges also refer Shakespeare on a number of occasions to clarify their point:
“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown”. “The Supreme Court in a case quoted from William Shakespeare’s play King Henry IV on the Prime Minister’s position in the case relating to the plea for granting sanction of prosecution against A Raja in the 2G spectrum case.
Justice A K Ganguly, who concurred with the findings of Justice G S Singhvi on the issue, quoted the line while referring to the delay which had taken place at the Prime Minister’s Office in taking a decision for according sanction for the prosecution of Raja.”
(Supreme Court quotes Shakespeare to describe PM’s position in 2G scam case)
( India | Press Trust of India | Updated: January 31, 2012, 23:29 IST)
Great Shakespeare must be turning sides in his grave when he was quoted recently by a Supreme Court judge, while delivering its verdict on Section 377 of IPC on September 6, 2018, quoting the famous quote of Romeo and Juliet;
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.” (Romeo and Juliet, Act-II, Scene-II.)
The Chief Justice of India, Justice Dipak Misra, relating the significance of identity, mentioned in his judgment the famous phrase in its central sense, expresses that “what actually matters is the necessary worth of the essence and the essential features of an entity but not the name by which it or an individual is identified or called.”
Poor Shakespeare must be crying in his grave, in whose Elizabethan period in England, homosexuality was considered as a sin and crime at par with murder. But today he is being invoked in India to de-criminalize and legalizes homosexuality.
This does not stop with the judiciary but sportsman and film stars have also quoted Shakespeare to express their views forcefully. In his biography, Sachin Tendulkar: A Definitive Biography,
on the crisis as the captain of the Indian cricket team, Sachin Tendulkar has used the same quote in his biography, used by Justice Ganguly “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” quoted from William Shakespeare’s play King Henry IV, to describe the crisis. A number of commentators have used Shakespeare to describe the greatness of Sachin Tendulkar.
‘A privilege to watch: Peter Roebuck on Sachin Tendulkar’s …’ ‘Oct 11, 2013 – For more than 20 years Sachin Tendulkar terrorised bowlers. … Bogart that there was no point reciting even Shakespeare if he was smoking a …’
Famous film actor Deepika Padukone has lately uploaded her picture on Instagram with a quote from Shakespearean Henry IV, referring her film ‘Chhapaak.’
“The actor had recently shared a behind-the-scenes image from a table read session from the film, which also showed her co-actor, Vikrant Massey, in a bearded look. ‘All things are ready if our mind is so,’ (Act IV, Scene-III) Deepika quoted William Shakespeare in the caption.”
Indian politicians also have been using the ‘Quotes of the Bard’ to express themselves because nobody can beat the Bard at oratory and rhetoric. In addition, everybody knows that Indian politics is only hallowing rhetoric.
Former finance minister Pranab Mukherjee used the quote from Shakespeare while presenting the annual Union Budget 2012. He used Shakespeare to validate the ‘cruel’ and ‘harsh’ budget but with the ‘kind’ and ‘positive’ intentions of the government.
“In the end, it was the Bard of Avon that FM turned to administer the “painful” pill of economic policy. “I must be cruel; only to be kind,” (Hamlet, Act III, Scene IV, ll 173-179) went for the much-awaited quote. Prince Hamlet, long fed up with the rot in the state of Denmark, was suddenly catapulted into the august house of world’s largest democracy. “Union Budget 2012-13: Pranab Mukherjee invokes Shakespeare on Budget day.”
Smriti Irani, former Human Resource Development minister, quoted the witches of Shakespearean Macbeth, condemning the opposition parties of distorting the truth in the controversial and much hyped Rohit Vemula suicide while replying in February 2016 in the Rajya Sabha.
“Quoting from William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Ms Irani said, ‘Fair Is Foul, Foul Is Fair,” accusing the opposition of turning facts around in the debate. Ms Irani and the opposition engaged in a war of words when neither yielded to the requests of the Chair.”
‘Fair Is Foul, Foul Is Fair’, (Act I, Scene I) Smriti Irani Quotes Macbeth in Rajya Sabha.
The National Conference and Kashmir Muslim leader Omar Abdullah, who is very extensively chased on Twitter, tweeted three words, “Et to Karnataka”, was expressing his frustration over the victory of nationalist BJP in Karnataka. He was quoting the sublime tragedy of Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare. The immortal dying words ‘Et Tu Brute’, a Latin phrase translated in English as ‘Even you Brutus’ that signifies brutality and betrayal when he was stabbed by his most trusted and best friend Brutus were uttered by Caesar in the play when he was stabbed by Brutus.
(Julius Caesar Act III, scene i)
‘Et Tu, Karnataka’ Omar Abdullah quotes Shakespeare to describe Karnataka election result, May 15, 2018.
During the 2017 Kolkata Book fair, controversial leader Mamata Banerjee, became a subject of laughter, in her zeal to brag Bengal’s resonance with Shakespeare, made a shocking statement that Tagore was a good friend of great Shakespeare and Keats. Legendary Shakespeare, was born in 1564, was a playwright of the Elizabethan age. Keats was a poet of the romantic age. The time gap between the period of Tagore and Shakespeare was about two hundred years. Tagore was born in 1861, and Gitanjali was written around 1913. There was no connection and camaraderie between the three. Keats had died forty years before Tagore was born, while Shakespeare died in 1616.
“The belief that power bestows on the powerful an indemnity against every transgression, even ignorance, is obvious in Banerjee’s astonishing capacity to alter the fact, even history, to suit her needs. Therefore, Rabindranath Tagore had “good relations” with John Keats and “Shakespeare ta (that Shakespeare)” is loved by children according to the chief minister. But how is this surprising?”
In his famous radio show ‘Mann ki Baat’, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on August 27, 2017, exhibited his good and diverse knowledge when he referred to the ‘Hindu Shastras, Mahatma Gandhi and Shakespeare simultaneously.
‘Shakespeare in his play, The Merchant of Venice, while explaining the importance of forgiveness, has written, “Mercy is twice blest, It blesseth him that gives and him that takes,” meaning, the forgiver and the forgiven both stand to receive divine blessing’.
(Portia, in William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Act 4, Scene 1)
However, perhaps the boldest use of Shakespeare in recent years was the creation of ‘Anti Romeo Squads’ by Yogi Adityanath government in 2017 for the protection of women. Opposition parties were baffled to see the name of the squad after the Shakespearean hero. In Utter Pradesh, the name is used for the molesters and criminals.
‘The ‘anti-Romeo squads’ was formed soon after Yogi Adityanath assumed the office of chief minister in Uttar Pradesh, thereby fulfilling the BJP’s election promise to ‘protect the honour of women’ once the party comes to power’.
It is remarkable to note the difference between Juliet’s ‘Romeo’ versus Yogi’s ‘Romeo.’
Juliet converses of Romeo as somebody who, after his death,
“will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night,
And pay no worship to the garish sun.”
But in today’s views of the Uttar Pradesh Police, Romeo is asamajik (anti-social), mawaali (ruffian), awara/chichore-type ladke (ayoung man of a frivolous character). In this new version, Romeo, is the possible molester, needs to be located and punished. It is an aberration and another example of west and non-Hindus corrupting and harassing Indian girls.
The squad was bitterly criticized by the non-BJP leaders and communist intellectuals, lawyers, activists, NGOs etc. Giving space to these elements has led to change the name of the squad from ‘Anti-Romeo Squad’ to ‘Nari Suraksha Bal’.
The Hindustan Times quoted Rajendra Pratap ‘Moti’ Singh as saying, “Behen betiyon ka samman sarkaar ki prathmikta hai. Ab anti-Romeo squad ka naam ‘Nari Suraksha Bal’ kar diya gaya hai (Protecting the honour of our sisters and daughters is the top priority for our government. Anti-Romeo squad would now be known as Nari Suraksha Bal).”
However, as Juliet said,
‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.’
The changing of name and title does not change the role and targets of the squads. One thing, however, is that it had very effectively achieved its aim with a positive ideology.
The Bard has travelled into the heart and mind of the people. Shakespeare is sleeping in his grave undisturbed for the last four centuries and many more centuries to come but he will enlighten and sparkle the heart and mind of the masses. He will live and survive like The Bible, The Quran and The Srimad Bhagwad Gita, The Ramayana, The Mahabharata, The Manusmiriti, and wherever there are people who matters and care. The unrivalled and matchless dramatist lives on gloriously. Shakespeare will remain an un-forgetful asset of England like Rugby, Derby and Lords.