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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: April ::
Re: "Shakespeare in the Bush"
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0279.  Sunday, 9 April 1995.
 
(1)     From:   John Mills <
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        Date:   Saturday, 08 Apr 1995 08:47:45 -0700 (MST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0273  Re: "Shakespeare in the Bush"
 
(2)     From:   Barrett Fisher <
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        Date:   Saturday, 08 Apr 1995 11:13:55 -0500
        Subj:   Re: Sh in Bush
 
(3)     From:   Dale Lyles <
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        Date:   Sunday, 9 Apr 1995 08:34:58 -0400
        Subj:   More African Hamlet
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Mills <
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Date:           Saturday, 08 Apr 1995 08:47:45 -0700 (MST)
Subject: 6.0273  Re: "Shakespeare in the Bush"
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0273  Re: "Shakespeare in the Bush"
 
Dave:  Many thanks.  I am new to the group and I must say this is the most
impressive and gratifying desmonstration I have so far had of its worth!
Nothing like instant gratification I always say.
 
Douglas:  Many thanks.  I know my student will be impressed at how quickly I
get back to him with an answer.  A great advertisement for SHAKSPER.
 
Naomi:  Many thanks for the info on "Bush".  I got three replys, each with
somewhat different and useful (but non-conflicting) information. I am
impressed.  (It suddenly occurs to me that I have not gone about these replys
properly; should have sent one collective thank you I suppose.  Sorry.  I am
still a tyro.
 
Thanks again to you all.--John Mills
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Barrett Fisher <
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Date:           Saturday, 08 Apr 1995 11:13:55 -0500
Subject:        Re: Sh in Bush
 
John Mills asked about *Shakespeare in the Bush.*  This is an essay by
anthropologist Laura Bohannan.  It was orginally published in Natural History,
August-September 1966 (I don't have the page numbers handy).  It has been
reprinted several times; I ran across it in the 5th edition of *Readings for
Writers" by Winkler and McCuen.
 
The basic point of the essay is to challenge as well as to confirm our notion
of great literature's "universal" meaning.  Bohannan spends several months the
Tiv in West Africa; like many tribal cultures, oral narrative is an important
social ritual, so she was invited to join in and tell a story that was
significant for her culture.  Not only did the tribal elders listen to the
story of *Hamlet*, but they provided her with the TRUE interpretation.  What is
interesting is that, given the assumptions of their culture, their
interpretation is perfectly coherent, though it runs contrary to any of the
meanings we would traditionally assign to the play.  Again, this suggests that
great literature is not universal in a naive sense because their Hamlet (both
the play and the character) is so different from ours, but the literature is
universal in a more sophisticated sense, because the story of the play
communicates so powerfully to them in their own cultural terms.  Of course, at
another level altogether, one may draw a lesson about the power of
interpretation being the real point; it is the interpreter's metanarrative, not
Shakespeare's play, which is really "universal."
 
I sometimes read portions of this aloud to my students on our last day of
discussion of Hamlet.  Incidentally, I do a similar exercise with James
Thurber's wonderful litte story "The Macbeth Murder Mystery," which illustrates
the power of genre to guide interpretation.  What happens if someone accustomed
to reading Agathie Christie picks up Macbeth and reads it with the conventions
of a detective story in mind?  The results are both amusing and instructive.
 
Barrett Fisher
Bethel College (MN)
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Dale Lyles <
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Date:           Sunday, 9 Apr 1995 08:34:58 -0400
Subject:        More African Hamlet
 
Laura Bohannon's article was also anthologized as "Prince Hamlet in Africa" in
the 3rd edition of *The Norton Reader: an anthology of expository prose.* A
very amusing caveat to all of us, I've always thought.
 
Dale
 

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