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Theses Doctoral

Desifying Shakespeare: Performing Contemporary India in Adaptations

Mookherjee, Taarini

“Desifying Shakespeare” focuses on the sharp spike in Shakespeare performances in India in the last three decades (1993-2018), a period of time that coincides with the advent of globalization, the liberalization of India’s economy, and the emergence of the field of Global Shakespeare. By mobilizing the bilingual portmanteau desify, a word that simultaneously references the abstract and aspirational nation (des) and the quotidian process of making local or native in popular culture, this project argues that these self-consciously Indian productions or “desified Shakespeare” disclose contemporary Indian ideas and inquiries of the nation. The dissertation thus works to demonstrate the discursive overlaps and tensions between race, caste, religion, gender, language, color, and nationality, categories that are historically contingent, fluid, and performative.

Each chapter centers around the affordances and appropriations of a different Shakespeare play and its iterations in contemporary India: Romeo and Juliet and the neighborhood as nation, Othello and the performativity of caste, Hamlet and the borderlands,Twelfth Night and diaspora space. “Desifying Shakespeare” thus marks the overlap and tension between the intensely local, the triumphantly national, and the universally global. Over the past two decades, the rise of the Hindu Right in India has resulted in Indian public discourse marking a return to and renewed investigation of the nation and its paronyms: national and nationalism. While the Hindu Right propounds a triumphalist and homogenous narrative of the nation, “Desifying Shakespeare” troubles this narrative by turning to performance, which I argue negotiates the tension between the des or the nation and desifying or the process of making local, concepts that both overlap and oppose each other. Prior studies on Shakespeare in India have relied heavily on the consequences of Shakespearean adaptations’ colonial origins, often restricted to analyses of single productions. However, “Desifying Shakespeare” shifts, in its methodology, to emphasize a synoptic view of Shakespeare in India, its multiple vectors of influence—colonial, global, postcolonial, and transnational—and its diverse areas of overlap. While the tendency within the field of Global Shakespeare is to dismiss the nation in favor of the local and the transnational, this project argues that the local and the transnational are entwined in the contemporary notions of the nation.

“Desifying Shakespeare” works to provide an alternative theorization of adaptation by using the portmanteau desify—a word that performs the very action it describes. A combination of des, the Hindi word for country/nation (implicitly understood to mean Indian), and the English suffix “—fy” denoting the transformation or the process of making into, desify is itself a word that desifies the English for change. An analysis of desification, thus involves a shift from a privileging of the putative original to an approach that considers a wider web of influences spanning different media, genres, languages, and sources. Running through this dissertation is a theorization of language in performance, moving between the concepts of neighboring, regional, vernacular, and dialect. “Desifying Shakespeare” thus shifts away from the dominant postcolonial metaphors of narration and imagination to emphasize the role of embodied performance in determining and upending a national identity. How the des is constructed in these productions provides an alternative to a neat narrative of the nation that moves beyond the Indian context to provide a model for Global Shakespeare criticism more broadly.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
English and Comparative Literature
Thesis Advisors
Worthen, William B.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 23, 2020