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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: September ::
Re: Bushmen Don't Understand Hamlet
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1899  Friday, 13 September 2002

[1]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Friday, 13 Sep 2002 22:07:25 +0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1895 Bushmen Don't Understand Hamlet

[2]     From:   Robin Hamilton <
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        Date:   Friday, 13 Sep 2002 16:38:31 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1895 Bushmen Don't Understand Hamlet

[3]     From:   Richard Burt <
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        Date:   Friday, 13 Sep 2002 12:20:07 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1895 Bushmen Don't Understand Hamlet

[4]     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Friday, 13 Sep 2002 12:56:56 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1895 Bushmen Don't Understand Hamlet

[5]     From:   Michael Best <
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        Date:   Friday, 13 Sep 2002 13:21:49 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1895 Bushmen Don't Understand Hamlet

[6]     From:   Hardy M. Cook <
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        Date:   Monday, September 16, 2002
        Subj:   Re: Bushmen Don't Understand Hamlet


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Friday, 13 Sep 2002 22:07:25 +0800
Subject: 13.1895 Bushmen Don't Understand Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1895 Bushmen Don't Understand Hamlet

Actually, this old chestnut's been around for a while, and seems to
derive from a period when anthropologists were determined to find that
other groups were different.  Some of that fanaticism seems to have worn
off in anthropology departments.

As I recall from the article, the anthropologist's interlocutors thought
that the ghost was a witch, a point of view that seems to be shared by
several people on this list.  In any case, the whole exercise couldn't
have taken place if the Africans (I don't recall them being San), like
literary critics, weren't interested in making the story fit their view
of the world, able to recognize it as a story, understand that it was
spoken in a human language, grasp that death and life are distinct state

Cheers,
Sean.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robin Hamilton <
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Date:           Friday, 13 Sep 2002 16:38:31 +0100
Subject: 13.1895 Bushmen Don't Understand Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1895 Bushmen Don't Understand Hamlet

> From:           Al Magary <
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>On the AnSax list, a U.S. Forest Service archaeologist, Walter
>Kingsborough, contributed this anecdote to a thread about humor in
>different cultures.  (Relayed by Al Magary)
>
>The reference to
>Shakespeare puts me in mind of one ethnologist who, after many weeks of
>listening to nightly story telling among the San Bushmen of Southwest
>Africa, offered to tell a story. His hosts were delighted that he wanted
>to participate and so he began to tell them the story of Hamlet.  Not to
>recite the play so much as simple tell the story of a King murdered by
>his brother, an incestuous marriage, and a troubled nephew torn between
>revenge for his father and fear for his own soul.
>
>The San audience failed to grasp even what we would consider to be the
>most basic foundation stones of the plot.

This is Laura Bohannan's "Shakespeare and the Tiv" (or "Shakespeare in
the Bush").  Her (sic! <g>) essay can be found at:

http://www.cc.gatech.edu/people/home/idris/Essays/Shakes_in_Bush.htm

I think this particular version was first published as a broadcast on
BBC Radio 3 and printed in _The Listener_.  In a longer (book?) version,
which I haven't read, apparently Laura Bohannon goes on to describe how
she then tried to retail the story of Lear to the Tiv.  Unlike +Hamlet+
(which the Tiv appreciated but (mis)understood [?], they were simply and
utterly baffled by Lear.

The implication usually taken is one of cultural relativity (the Tiv's
version of the tale has as much authority ...), but there are other
possibilities.  LB didn't present the Tiv with Shakespeare's _Hamlet_
but simply the plot-outline, the anecdote illustrates (a la Stanley
Fish) the necessity of hermeneutic parameters when interpreting a text,
etc ...

I once taught a Roman Catholic nun who had worked as a missionary with
the Tiv.  She said they were really nice people (the unstated corollary
being that they were much nicer than the seminar group she was then in).

Robin Hamilton

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Richard Burt <
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Date:           Friday, 13 Sep 2002 12:20:07 -0400
Subject: 13.1895 Bushmen Don't Understand Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1895 Bushmen Don't Understand Hamlet

The reference is to the essay "Shakespeare in the Bush" by Laura
Bohannan.

As I remember, the ethnologist is not regarded as pulling the legs of
the bushmen; rather, she is sent back to her own country to consult with
her elders about the correct version of Hamlet.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Friday, 13 Sep 2002 12:56:56 -0400
Subject: 13.1895 Bushmen Don't Understand Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1895 Bushmen Don't Understand Hamlet

>The San audience failed to grasp even what we would consider to be the
>most basic foundation stones of the plot.  Aside from the concepts of
>King and Kingdom, they bore total disbelief that a brother would murder
>or that an uncle and nephew would ever have such an antagonistic
>relationship.

I think the San understand Hamlet well enough.  It's not natural -- as
the play defines "natural" -- for Claudius to kill old Hamlet, and it's
not "natural" for Hamlet to hate Claudius.  Something is rotten in the
state of Denmark because of these unnatural acts.

As for medieval/renaissance concepts of kingship, how many Americans
understand them? My students surely do not -- even after reading
Shakespeare and sleeping through my explanations.

And who's to say which "understanding" of Hamlet's plot is really a
misunderstanding?

Yours,
Bill Godshalk

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Michael Best <
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Date:           Friday, 13 Sep 2002 13:21:49 -0700
Subject: 13.1895 Bushmen Don't Understand Hamlet
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1895 Bushmen Don't Understand Hamlet

The piece that Al Magary is thinking of is "Shakespeare in the Bush," by
Laura Bohannan. You can find it reprinted in James P. Spradley and David
W.  McCurdy, eds., _Conformity and Conflict: Readings in Cultural
Anthropology_ (Boston: Little Brown, 1980), 78-88.

Michael Best
Coordinating Editor, Internet Shakespeare Editions
<http://www.uvic.ca/shakespeare>

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Hardy M. Cook <
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Date:           Monday, September 16, 2002
Subject:        Re: Bushmen Don't Understand Hamlet

When I taught, not now knowing if I will ever teach again, I would use
"Shakespeare in the Bush" early in the semester to interrogate matters
of universality and universal TRUTH.

I am currently finishing Terrence Hawkes

 

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