by ROSHAN DOUG
Shakespeare is adored in the West, and indeed, also in the Indian subcontinent.
As an English graduate – who then went into writing about arts and education, I, too, have felt a certain affinity with this literary giant who speaks for us, our world and humanity.
It’s one of the reasons I went to see the performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at The Birmingham Botanical Gardens. Performed by Chapterhouse Theatre Company, it’s an outstanding production with a startling cast of actors.
The play is set in an Elizabethan aristocratic environment. It has some nice, quirky touches to make it an interactive and enjoyable affair. It is full of magic, fairies and star-crossed lovers. Hermia gives a particularly dynamic performance with such energy and gusto. Along with the lovelorn Helena, they are simply a delight to watch.
The company is touring throughout the summer and there is a chance to see this production at a place near you.
Those familiar with this Bard of the 16th and 17th centuries will know that so much is made of the iambic pentametre – the rhythmical stress and unstress syllables (roughly ten in each line). It mirrors the natural speech patterns of English.
Many of today’s poets argue that they borrow so much from the formation of Shakespeare’s rhyming couplets and sonnets, from the structure of his soliloquies and the poetic intensity of his thoughts.
I agree for I have no intention of offending readers by trying to debunk such a reputation.
However, what we sometimes forget is that far more literary complexity exists in Sanatani texts – also referred to as the ancient Vedas, that have given the foundations for Dharmic lifestyle and belief systems in India.
Many reputable scholars believe the four Vedas are the oldest texts in the history of mankind, and Sanskrit – in which they’re written – set the seeds for other languages to form and develop.
Whether the audience is conscious of this or not, Shakespeare echoes a lot of what Hindus believe. There is, in Shakespeare, for instance, the arrangement of planetary systems, astrological influence – the sun, the moon and the stars – the Fortune’s Wheel (Hamlet, King Lear), the cyclic arrangement of life, the stages of man’s development, the presence of good and evil (Othello), the conflict between parents and children (King Lear), kingship, honour, duty, the power of language (Richard II), the supernatural, the metaphysical and the illusory nature of our world, our reality (Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream).
Of course, Hindus know that many of these themes are embedded in the Bhagavad Gita, the oldest text in the world. It depicts the most comprehensive dialogue between a master and student at the dawn of a monumental battle.
Arjuna – the leader of the Pandavas – is having a crisis of conscience at the thought of killing his kinsmen, members of his own family – the Kauravas. It is left to Lord Krishna – his cousin – to guide him to his duty to himself, his dharma and brahma.
Shakespeare also does something similar in Henry IV Part 1 and 2 and Coriolanus for these are universal themes – but their foundations lie in the Vedas.
The Vedas come with numerous and specific rhythmical patterns that vary according to the mantras. In such texts, especially The Rig Veda, which are often cited during havan ceremonies (the fire rituals), it’s not just the words and language that convey the meaning but the sound and the vibration. And if you think the iambic pentametre is something, then you’ll be astounded when you hear the recitation of any of the devotional Sanskrit texts that evoke the ultimate spirit of the universe.
This production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is an excellent place to launch into these comparisons.