Ahead of the informal presentation on Tuesday, I feel like my project is (finally!) starting to take shape, and I am excited to delve into sources in the coming weeks. After a helpful discussion on Tuesday, a chat with Milinda about possible texts to focus on, and an acceptance of the fact that a proper understanding of how to write transnational history will likely come throughout the semester as my project develops, I am in a place where I know where I am heading. 

The ‘hard-hitting’ title is currently still in production, but the focus of my study will be to understand how adaptations of Shakespeare’s Othello can be used as windows into reactions to oppression, particularly in post-colonial India and in Apartheid South Africa. In these cases, the English bard is reclaimed after generations of being symbolic of British superiority and racial oppression. By researching varying adaptations, over many mediums and cultural zones, I hope to discover similarities and differences between them, revealing how a 17th century play can be reinterpreted for and by new audiences, and is felt so very differently depending on context. 

The racial differences Shakespeare wrote about came from the background of cosmopolitan London, but a London where ‘otherness’ was essential to cementing identity at home. As exposure to Europeans and peoples further afield increased, so too did insularity and superiority. This is merely a starting off point to the long story of how Shakespeare and Othello have been used. I aim to focus on 20th/21st century adaptations, in an attempt to explain how Othello has been used to ‘write back’ to Shakespearean oppression after it held such a strong place in colonial education systems. An interesting perspective is that of Dennis Kennedy, and what he calls the ‘Great Shakespeare Paradox’;

“when we allege that Shakespeare is universal, what we are actually saying is that he has been continuously reinvented.”

Dennis Kennedy, ‘Global Shakespeare and Globalized Performance’, in James C. Bulman (ed.) The Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare and Performance, (2017).

Whether it be full-scale Bollywood film adaptations, or simply staging the original Othello in Apartheid Africa, I wish to answer the following question: How has Othello been used both as a commodity for widespread enjoyment, but simultaneously as a weapon against oppression and a rebuttal to the myth of the universal Bard? The answer will be revealed by studying him as a truly ‘Rhizomatic’ figure. He is decentralised and continuously erupting, beginning in ‘The Globe’ theatre, but infecting the world, while simultaneously also being affected by it.    

Ania Loomba, a literary scholar from Delhi, has rightly noted that; 

“Because Shakespeare too is such wide territory, appropriated by so many different kinds of readers and audiences, any book on Shakespeare and race cannot aim to be ‘comprehensive’ or ‘objective'”

Ania Loomba, Shakespeare, Race, and Colonialism, (Oxford, 2002), p. 21.

 This is true, but of course a history need not be comprehensive to be valuable. I hope that my study can ask some new questions and draw new parallels. This will be done by taking Othello as a commodity, but also as an idea, and assessing its adaptations. I will add to the debate surrounding how Shakespearean plays are so much more than plays, and thus they will continue to be experienced and loved differently by different people for centuries to come. 

Rhizomatic Shakespeare