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October 26, 2005

Shakespeare in Bush

Bohannon, "Shakespeare in the Bush" -- Drama as Literature (EL 250)

"Why was he no longer their chief?" "He was dead," I explained. "That is why they were troubled and afraid when they saw him." "Impossible," began one of the elders, handing his pipe to his neighbor who interrupted. "Of course it wasn't the dead chief. It was an omen sent by a witch. Go on!"

Although the Tiv cannot relate to the character of Hamlet (because he wants to kill his uncle – “for a man to raise his hand against his father's brother…that is a terrible thing”), they are genuinely interested in the story. I don’t think they came up with any new way of looking at Hamlet since the witch theory doesn’t really fit. Their own cultural prejudices got in the way of their identification with characters, but not in their appreciation.

An appreciation of literature is universal, but because different cultures will have different interpretations, not everyone will have the same response. In fact, I think that if the Tiv were to rewrite Hamlet, we wouldn’t even recognize it.

They have an understanding of the text. It may be skewed because of their way of life, but they do understand and enjoy it. Maybe understanding literature is a personal thing, and specific or correct interpretation doesn’t matter as much.

It’s interesting because like Bohannon’s British friend said there is only one true interpretation of Hamlet, the Tiv also believe that human nature is universal. They believe that witchcraft is the reasoning behind most strange occurrences, and that’s how it works worldwide.

Shakespeare is universal in the sense that everyone can appreciate it, but not that everyone will produce the same interpretation. I suppose if you can’t make heads or tails of Shakespeare, you could certainly sympathize with the Tiv. I mean, I appreciate the cultural differences, but I can’t help but feel that this was slightly exaggerated. Would they really not be familiar with the term “king”?

Posted by Kayla Sawyer at October 26, 2005 6:37 PM


In what ways do our own cultural experiences bind us into certain habits of interpretation, and blind us to other possibilities?

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at October 27, 2005 12:02 AM

I think we all have blind spots when we look at things. Sometimes this is a fault and sometimes it's because of the impossibility of having the Elizabethan mind-set.

I know I ignored the country's war strife because I was wrapped up in the main plots of the family. It does take a back seat to the plot, but it does affect their lives. The political aspects of the story are often lost on me as well. It's easy not to care about the whole usurping of the throne issue or what that could mean for the country. I think that's probably because we don't live in a feudal country.

We're a nation bent on psychoanalysis, so the ghost of Hamlet's father is sometimes interpreted as a form of psychosis. How reliable you consider it to be can change your interpretation.

I think the reverence given to prayer (not killing Claudius because he is praying and will go to heaven) and other non-secular ideas can also be lost.

And I do think that Hamlet is so well known that people automatically have preconceived notions about it. Of course all we have to work with is our own experiences and habits, it's hard to work outside that comfort zone.

Posted by: Kayla Sawyer at October 27, 2005 10:40 AM

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