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For rosencrantz319, Shakespeare in the Bush - Journal of Omnifarious

Jun. 22nd, 2008

09:20 am - For rosencrantz319, Shakespeare in the Bush

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It is thought by some that Shakespeare's plays have themes so universal that they can cross any cultural lines. After reading Shakespeare in the Bush I'm not so sure.

Courtesy of memegarden.

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From:eonen
Date:June 22nd, 2008 05:23 pm (UTC)
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I have to admit, I often claim to people that I'm not human...and one of the main reasons is that I seem to be very different, culturally, from those among whom I was raised.
Oh, don't get me wrong, I understand how this culture functions...but that doesn't mean I really get it. I find many customs...well...not perplexing, exactly, perhaps more like nonsensical. There are things people do and say which are taken completely for granted that, when examined objectively, are just utterly bizarre; a cultural anthropologist from another planet would look at American/European customs with more than a small amount of bogglement.

But still...reading this thing, I felt a ring of familiarity. While I don't relate to thee bushmen any better than American culture, their reinterpretations and their strange alien values grafted onto Shakespeare felt a lot like my own objections to similar stories; I had a sense of been-there-done-that as I read on.
There have been many highly-revered stories where people praise certain actions and the reasoning behind them, while I find myself describing the characters in these situations as complete tools with fucked up values, often allowing their pride (or slavish devotion to certain value systems, which often amounts to the same thing in practice) to needlessly get in the way of achieving their goals. When I hear people praising these stories, I find myself wanting to go, "WHAT??? How can you say that? These people died for no reason, or killed all the wrong people, and behaved like complete twits, all entirely in the name of some rigid belief system that, frankly, has no practical application in the real world...and you consider this praise-worthy? Sticking to your guns on some foolish decision or set of behaviors/values that get in the way rather than help? When breaking those rules in a way that hurts no one would accomplish your goals rather quickly? This, to you, is a Good Thing™?" GRAAGH! It makes me grumpy sometimes. Being stubborn isn't necessarily a virtue.

Anyway, my point is that I understand and relate to seeing Shakespeare as non-universal; More often than not, I don't get it either, not even when it's translated from that fucking Martian Shakespeare felt the need to write in into actual English as people really speak it.
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From:joreth
Date:June 22nd, 2008 05:57 pm (UTC)
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Whether the tale of a scholar relating Hamlet to bushmen is true or not, it isn't surprising to me in the least to find that Shakespeare is not universal. It is my position that very little of what we call "human nature" is universal, but cultural. Even a cursory glance at anthropological studies can show that. And, not even across cultures, but across time, these themes are not universal.

Personally, I have never liked Shakespeare. I won't argue for or against his skill as a poet and storyteller, since I apparently have absolutely no taste or knowledge in that regard. But I can't stand the story itself. There is not a single play or poem by Shakespeare that I enjoy - the characters are aborrent and they all get into the stupidest prediciments that I want to strangle them all. I was relieved when all the characters of Hamlet died and I wished more of Romeo and Juliet's characters had died to put me out of my misery.

What does seem to be universal is a self-centric world view. No matter what culture or era we come from, we all seem to assume that everyone else thinks the same way we do. And we project our own assumptions and prejudices onto whatever cultural artifact we encounter. One notable case that springs to mind is a when European nation met a Pacific Island tribal nation (unfortunately, I forget which of both). The tribal community was strongly matriarchal. The men were second-class citizens, even having been quoted by later anthropologists that they hated that women were in charge and they hated being treated like pieces of meat, only good for sexual favors with no rights of their own.

Anyway, the Europeans, being strongly patriarchal, absolutely refused to see the women at all, let alone as the chiefs and ministers and insisted on conducting business with the men, who had no "legal" rights in that culture to do so.

Shakespeare's plays are not universal, he just happens to be a writer who lived in a society that spread itself like a plague over every other culture it touched, and one that has historically discouraged personal growth and the elimination of jealousy and violence. So, over centuries the stories have lived in a culture that stamp out other cultures' viewpoints and does its hardest to stifle change. No wonder "we" think it's "universal" - as long as we ignore other viewpoints and assimilate everyone else to "our" way of thinking, we can go on our merry self-centric way and pretend that certain things are "human nature" as a way to justify violence, jealousy, emotional stuntedness, and to use fear as a control method for the masses.
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From:catherinew
Date:June 22nd, 2008 06:59 pm (UTC)
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The plot really did not translate into that culture. Honestly, it doesn't translate well into modern American culture, with our much more lackadaisical attitude towards marriage and remarriage.

Maybe instead of trying to explain the plot literally -- a plot which really can only be understood if you have some kind of background in Western culture, monogamy, chivalry, Western concepts of the occult, etc. -- the writer should have tried translating the big concepts of the play into a plot that the locals would have understood.

The form of the poem, the mechanics of the plot, the type of music, are all culturally determined. It is very very difficult, if not impossible, to translate the form of a poem, or the exact plot of a play, across cultures. For instance, it's almost impossible to translate poetry. All you can really do is write a new poem in the second language, inspired by the original.

The human condition -- that by our nature, we must love that which is mortal and will pass away -- IS universal, and is the subject of multitudinous types of art across every group of humans everywhere.
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From:omnifarious
Date:June 22nd, 2008 07:32 pm (UTC)
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I agree that the author could've approached the problem differently and tried to make a story about the same basic ideas tailored to that culture.

I find this to be sort of an extended version of Chomsky's attempt to discover some universal grammar that would somehow capture all human languages. It feels like it should exist, but nobody's ever been able to come up with any kind of formal description of it.

Similarly, there are ideas in much of Shakespeare that seem universal. But the idea that Shakespeare's plays could actually convey those ideas universally is largely a result of western ethnocentrism.

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From:joreth
Date:June 22nd, 2008 08:49 pm (UTC)
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Ah ha! Ethonocentrism! That's the word I was looking for. That's what I get for trying to write a rant right when I woke up and haven't cleared the fog from my brain yet!
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From:cressida42
Date:June 23rd, 2008 01:47 am (UTC)
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Thank you. I enjoyed that differing point of reference story. Oddly enough, earlier this week I was involved in a conversation about how it was a Germanic custom as late as the early 20th century to marry your wife's sister (if available) if the wife died, which my great-great-grandfather did, even bringing her over from Germany to Minnesota to honor the custom, as did a great-great-uncle and aunt both widowed in their 80s, as recently as the late 1970's-early 1980's.
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From:inclementine
Date:July 4th, 2008 10:28 am (UTC)
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http://fringefestival.org/2008/show/?id=910
those are my friends and they usually have great shows.

call me tomorrow if you want to hang out 6122101717
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From:omnifarious
Date:July 5th, 2008 10:36 am (UTC)
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Con is a poor place for me to be social with friends. There is too much going on and too many people. Thursday evening/Friday morning is a bit of an exception, sort of. You were 'new people to meet' then because I've had so little interaction with you in general. And I was all wound down and tired and not up to being my normal Connish ADD self.

I enjoy going out to lunch with friends at Con or spending time with friends outside of Con. I will be here for a whole week afterward and would love to hang out with you then if lunch/dinner on Saturday or Sunday of Con weekend don't work.

Please call, and I'll call you too when I'm about to go to lunch or on Monday evening to try to arrange a get-together.

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From:omnifarious
Date:July 10th, 2010 05:34 pm (UTC)

I saw you at con again this year

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And I wanted to hang out. :-) Do you have time before I have to leave early Monday morning?

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