Skip to main content Accessibility help

The Reinvention of Shakespeare in Traditional Asian Theatrical Forms

  • Min Tian


Especially during the later decades of the twentieth century, Shakespeare's plays have been adapted for production in many of the major Asian traditional theatrical forms – prompting some western critics to suggest that such forms, with their long but largely non-logocentric traditions, can come closer to the recovery or recreation of the theatrical conditions and performance styles of Shakespeare's times than can academically derived experiments based on scantily documented research. Whether in full conformity with traditional Asian styles, or by stirring ingredients into a synthetic mix, Min Tian denies that a ‘true’ recreation is possible – but suggests that such productions can, paradoxically, help us to ‘reinvent’ Shakespeare in fuller accord with our own times, notably by exploiting the potential of stylized gesture and movement, and the integration of music and dance, called for by proponents of a modernistic ‘total’ theatre after Artaud. In considering a wide range of Shakespearean productions and adaptations from varying Asian traditions, Min Tian suggests that the fashionably derided ‘universality’ of Shakespeare may still tell an intercultural truth that transcends stylistic and chronological distinctions. Min Tian holds a doctorate from the China Central Academy of Drama, where he has been an associate professor since 1992. The author of many articles on Shakespeare, modern drama, and intercultural theatre, he is now a doctoral candidate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.



Hide All

Notes and References

1. Styan, J. L., The Shakespeare Revolution: Criticism and Performance in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), p. 5.

2. Pound, Ezra and Fenollosa, Ernest, The Classical Noh Theatre of Japan (New York: New Directions, 1959), p. 60.

3. Ibid., p. 29, fn.

4. Pronko, Leonard C., Theatre East and West: Perspectives toward a Total Theatre (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967), p. 161. Pronko's assertion remains valid: as Alan Dessen noted most recently, probably 90 per cent or more of the evidence has been eroded so that ‘what was too obvious to need recording then is murky or eclipsed today’. See Dessen, Alan C., ‘Recovering Elizabethan Staging: a Reconsideration of the Evidence’, in Textual and Theatrical Shakespeare: Questions of Evidence, ed. Pechter, Edward (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1996), p. 63.

5. Artaud, Antonin, ‘Letters on Language’, in The Theatre and Its Double, trans. Richards, Mary Caroline (New York: Grove Press, 1958), p. 108.

6. Brockbank, Philip, ‘Shakespeare Renaissance in China’, Shakespeare Quarterly, XXXIX, No. 2 (1988), p. 195.

7. Brown, John Russell, ‘Jatra Theatre and Elizabethan Dramaturgy’, New Theatre Quarterly, X, No. 40 (11 1994), p. 338.

8. Pronko, Leonard C., ‘Approaching Shakespeare through Kabuki’, Shakespeare East and West, ed. Fujita, Minoru and Pronko, Leonard (New York: St Martin's Press, 1996), p. 24.

9. Kott, Jan, The Theatre of Essence (Evanston: North-western University Press, 1984), p. 127–8.

10. Quoted in Kiernander, Adrian, Ariane Mnouchkine and the Theatre du Soleil (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), p. 106.

11. Quoted in Kiernander, Ibid., p. 109.

12. Mnouchkine, Ariane, ‘The Theatre is Oriental’, in The Intercultural Performance Reader, ed. Pavis, Patrice (London: Routledge, 1996), p. 95.

13. Harbage, Alfred, Theatre for Shakespeare (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1955), p. 92118.

14. Dessen, Alan C., Recovering Shakespeare's Theatrical Vocabulary (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), p. 127–49.

15. Antonin Artaud, ‘Oriental and Occidental Theatre’, ‘No More Masterpieces’, and ‘Letters on Language: First Letter’, in Theatre and Its Double, op. cit.

16. See Nouryeh, Andrea J., ‘Shakespeare and the Japanese Stage’, in Foreign Shakespeare, ed. Kennedy, Dennis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), p. 259.

17. Quoted in Fleck, Agnes, ‘A Japanese Much Ado’, Shakespeare Quarterly, XXXII, No. 3 (Autumn 1981), p. 366.

18. Quoted in Fleck, Agnes, ‘Terence Knapp's Shakespearean Production in Tokyo’, Shakespeare Translation, No. 10 (Tokyo, 1984), p. 60.

19. Ibid., p. 60.

20. See Pronko, ‘Approaching Shakespeare through Kabuki’, p. 34–8; Ronnie Mulryne, ‘From Text to Foreign Stage: Yukio Ninagawa's Cultural Translation of Macbeth’, in Shakespeare from Text to Stage, ed. Kennan, Patricia and Tempera, Mariangela (Bologna: Clueb, 1992), p. 131–43.

21. Billington, Michael, The Guardian, 19 09 1987, reprinted in London Theatre Record, VII, 9–23 September 1987, p. 1,200.

22. Taylor, Paul. The Independent, 19 09 1987, reprinted in London Theatre Record, op. cit., p. 1,201.

23. Christopher Andraea, ‘A Japanese Macbeth in Scotland’, quoted in Pronko, ‘Approaching Shakespeare through Kabuki’, p. 39.

24. Ibid., p. 36–7.

25. Kowsar, Mohammad, ‘The Tale of Lear’, Theatre Journal XLI, No. 1 (03 1989), p. 109.

26. Kim, Yun-Cheol, ‘The First BeSeTo Theatre Festival’, Theatre Journal, XLVII, No. 3 (10 1995), p. 417.

27. See Carruthers, Ian, ‘What Actors and Directors Do to “Legitimate” Shakespeare: Suzuki's Chronicle of Macbeth and Ellen Lauren's Lady Macbeth’, in Shakespeare's Books: Contemporary Cultural Politics and the Persistence of Empire, ed. Mead, Philip and Campbell, Marion (Perkville: Department of English, University of Melbourne, 1993), p. 180.

28. See Carruthers, Ibid., p. 179–80.

29. Pronko, Leonard, ‘The Chronicle Macbeth’, Theatre Journal, XL, No. 1 (03 1993), p. 110.

30. Briggs, John R., Shogun Macbeth (New York: Samuel French, 1988), p. 89.

31. Ibid., p. 7.

32. Mnouchkine, ‘The Theatre is Oriental’, p. 95.

33. For an analysis of Mnouchkine's production of Richard II, see Kiernander, op. cit. p. 110–15.

34. Pronko, ‘Approaching Shakespeare through Kabuki’, p. 31.

35. Mnouchkine, ‘The Theatre is Oriental’, p. 96.

36. Quoted in Dennis Kennedy, ‘Afterword: Shakespearean Orientalism’, in Foreign Shakespeare, op. cit., p. 295.

37. Mnouchkine, ‘The Theatre is Oriental’, p. 96.

38. Sullivan, Dan, ‘A Richard II That Rewards Effort’, Los Angeles Times, 15 06 1984, Part VI, p. 4.

39. Sisson, C. J., Shakespeare in India: Popular Adaptations on the Bombay Stage (London: Oxford University Press, 1926), p. 7.

40. Ibid., p. 26.

41. Bharucha, Rustom, Rehearsals of Revolution: the Political Theatre of Bengal (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1983), p. 62–3.

42. Quoted in Zarrilli, Phillip B., ‘For Whom Is the King a King? Issues of Interculrural Production, Perception, and Reception in a Kathakali King Lear’, in Critical Theory and Performance, ed. Reinelt, Janelle G. and Roach, Joseph R. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1992), p. 19.

43. Awasthi, Suresh, ‘The Intercultural Experience and the Kathakali King Lear’, New Theatre Quarterly, IX, No. 34 (05 1993), p. 172–6.

44. Singh, Jyotsna, Colonial Narratives/Cultural Dialogues: ‘Discoveries’ of India in the Language of Colonialism (London: Routledge, 1996), p. 146.

45. Awasthi, ‘The Interculrural Experience’, p. 178.

46. Quoted in Zarrilli, op. cit., p. 27.

47. Billington, Michael, ‘Empty Gestures of a Frustrating Lear’, The Guardian, 17 08 1990, p. 28.

48. Stevenson, Randall, ‘Beat of a Different Drum’, The Independent, 18 08 1990.

49. Weiss, Alfred, ‘The Edinburgh International Festival 1990’, Shakespeare Quarterly, XLII (Winter 1991), p. 464.

50. Quoted in Donohue, Peter Morgan, ‘Shozo Sato and the Interculturation of Kabuki and Western Theatre’, unpublished dissertation, University of Illinois, Urbana, 1992, p. 254.

51. Sato, Shozo, ‘Director's Notes’, in Program for Iago's Plot (Urbana: University of Illinois KCPA, 1997), p. 8.

52. See Syse, Glenna, ‘Macbeth Done Kabuki Style’, Chicago Sun-Times, 5 10 1981, p. 37; Christiansen, Richard, ‘Bard the Star in Kabuki Othello’, Chicago Tribune, 20 11 1986, Sec. 2, p. 11; Bevington, David, ‘Kabuki Othello at the Wisdom Bridge Theatre, Chicago’, Shakespeare Quarterly, XXXVIII, No. 2 (Summer 1987), p. 211–14.

53. Bevington, op. cit., p. 211.

54. Sato, op. cit., p. 7.

55. Donohue, op. cit., p. 208.

56. Munakata, Kuniyoshi, Hamlet in Noh Style: Collected Versions, 1982–1990 (Tokyo: Kenkyusha, 1991), p. vii; Kahan, Jeffrey, ‘Noh Shakespeare: an Interview with Kuniyoshi Munakata’, Shakespeare Bulletin, XIV, No. 1 (Winter 1996), p. 27.

57. Kahan, op. cit., p. 27.

58. Ibid., p. 28.

59. Munakata, op. cit., p. 73.

60. Ibid., p. 150.

61. Donald Richie, ‘Hamlet Seen as Noh Drama’, in Hamlet in Noh Style, p. 154.

62. Munakata and John Fraser, ‘John Fraser Talks about Noh Hamlet’, in Hamlet in Noh Style, p. 151.

63. Ibid., p. 152.

64. Hu Weimin, in Hu Weimin, Li Jiayao, Wang Fumin, and Jiang Weiguo, ‘Zhong Xi Wenhua Zai Xiju Wutai Shang de Yuhe: Guanyu Zhongguo Xiqu yu Shashibiya de Duihua’ (‘The Meeeting of Chinese and Western Cultures on Stage: Dialogues on Traditional Chinese Theatre and Shakespeare’), Xiju Yishu (Theatre Arts), p. 39–40.

65. Li Jiayao, in Hu, Li, Wang, and Jiang, Ibid., p. 42.

66. Jiang Weiguo, in Hu, Li, Wang, and Jiang, Ibid., p. 47.

67. Gusun, Lu, ‘Shashibiya Zhongguo Hua de Sikao’ (‘Reflections on the Sinicization of Shakespeare’), Shanghai Yishujia (Shanghai Artists), No. 1 (1987), p. 47.

68. Li Jiayao, op. cit., p. 42.

69. King, Francis, Sunday Telegraph, 30 08 1987 , reprinted in London Theatre Record, 13–26 August 1987, Edinburgh International Festival Supplement 1987, p. 33 (my italics).

70. Scott, Robert Dawson, Glasgoiv Herald, 26 08 1987, reprinted in London Theatre Record, op. cit., p. 32.

71. Renton, Alex, The Independent, 28 08 1987, reprinted in London Theatre Record, op. cit., p. 34.

72. Hall, Fernau, Daily Telegraph, 27 08 1987, reprinted in London Theatre Record, op. cit., p. 33.

73. For a description of this production, see Stanley, Audrey, ‘The 1994 Shanghai International Shakespeare Festival’, Shakespeare Quarterly, XLVII, No. 1 (Spring 1996), p. 73–4. Stanley thought that the production was ‘old-fashioned’ and that its ‘romantic approach’ was ‘cliché-ridden’, but also observed that ‘the combination of well-loved and well-known music with beautifully performed dance and drama worked its magic’.

74. Fuliang, Sun, ‘Jiusi Shanghai Guoji Shashibiya Xiju Jie Shuping’ (‘Comments on the 1994 Shanghai International Shakespeare Festival’), Xiju Yishu (Theatre Arts), No. 4 (1994), p. 6.

75. See Shujun, Cao, ‘Li-er Wang Zai Jingju Wutai Shang: Jingju Qi Wang Meng Shang Xi’ (‘King Lear on the Jingju Stage: an Appreciation of The Dream of Emperor Qi’) Wen Hui Bao, 17 11 1995.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO

The Reinvention of Shakespeare in Traditional Asian Theatrical Forms

  • Min Tian


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.