Share this page

To India, with love

This week’s tribute blog goes to India and explores the links between the Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust’s Library and India.

Mareike Doleschal

India has one of the world’s highest number of languages: Four hundred and twenty seven in total. Twenty-three are official languages and two of them are among the ten most spoken languages in the world. There are 615 million speakers of Hindi (341 million are native speakers) and Bengali is spoken by 265 million people (228 million are native speakers)[1].

Indian languages gave us words such as shampoo, jungle, bungalow, candy, cot, ginger, mango, orange, peacock, cash and dinghy[2]. Many of these words were introduced into English during the time of colonialization.

Approximately eighty languages are represented in the Trust Library. Of these ten are Indian languages, including Bengali, Hindi, Guajarati, Kannada/Canarese, Urdu, Punjabi, Marathi, Malayalam, Telugu and Tamil. As with most of our translations, they are historic translations, dating from the mid-nineteenth century onwards.

How did Shakespeare and the English language arrive in India? In his Minute on Education from 1835, Lord Macaulay explains the reasoning for introducing English to a small group of Indians: “We must do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indians in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals and in intellect.”[3] The reason for teaching English was to equip a minority of natives to act as conduits between the rulers and the ruled. Introducing Shakespeare served the same purpose. According to the India Act of 1853, Shakespeare was included in the syllabus of the civil service examinations. [4] English language productions of Shakespeare’s works took place as early as 1814 but were of course not aimed at the masses but served an English audience and upper-class Indians.

To describe the first Indian translations as ‘translations’ is perhaps not quite correct. They were adaptations or transcreations and included many departures from the original, including place and names changes. In the first Hindi translation of The Merchant of Venice, for example (translated by Bharatendu Harishchandra, 1880) Shylock becomes Shailaksha and Venice Vanshpur.[5] By 1852 Shakespeare had already been translated into seventeen Indian languages and was widely performed.

The Trust’s earliest Indian translation is of The Merchant of Venice into Marathi and dates from 1867. Audiences responded well to Kolhaltkar’s adaptation of this play. A further sixty-five adaptations into Marathi appeared between 1867 and 1915. Like most Indian translations in the Trust collection, this Marathi adaptation came into the Trust library via a donation. The Home Department of the government of India gifted it to Secretary for the State of India, at the time Viscount Cross, who then presented it to the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in 1886. 

Merchant of Venice in Urdu, 1884, cover
The Merchant of Venice in Urdu, 1884

Our earliest translation into Urdu is also of The Merchant of Venice and published in 1884. Interestingly, the title page is printed in Urdu and English, a great help to me when I created an online  catalogue record for the book! The translator N. Futehally (also spelled Nayar Mahomed Fuateali) dedicated his adaptation to the Governor and colonial administrator of Bombay, a man called James Fergusson. Amit Kumar Gupta, who discusses Fergussons’s policy as a governor in his doctoral thesis, mentions that Fergusson disliked admitting Indians to the Indian Civil Service and resisted a scheme for self-government.[6]

Macbeth in Bengali, 1874, cover
Macbeth in Bengali, 1874

The third translation I would like to introduce is Macbeth in Bengali published in 1874. A school teacher with the name Haralal Roy adapted the play into Bengali. It was intended for theatrical performance, not reading, and the Great National Theatre staged a Macbeth production, using Roy’s adaptation in 1875. Despite the name changes and “indianization”, techniques that translators used to make the play popular, the production was not well received. To find out more about the art of rendering Shakespeare into Bengali, I recommend the blogs by translator and playwright Dattatreya Dutt who donated his translations to the Trust Library.

According to Jyotsna Singh and Modhumita Roy, after independence Shakespeare came to symbolise the oppressor.[1] However, these days Indians seem to have discovered Shakespeare for themselves and his plays have found their ways into popular culture, in particular the cinema and songs. I would like to think that this process started with those early translations. I look forward to adding more modern translations to our library collection and showing them to our visitors when we re-open again.

Macbeth in Bengali, 1874, page one
Macbeth in Bengali, 1874, title page

Footnotes

[1] Babble.com/en/magazine/the_10_most_spoken_languages_in_the_world (accessed 30th November 2020)
[2] En.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_English_words_of_Hindi_or_Urdu-origin (accessed 30th November 2020)
[3] Lord Macaulay in: Tharoor, Shashi: Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India. Penguin Books, 2016, page 186
[4] Bhatia, Nandi: “Shakespeare” and the codes of empire in India. In: Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics, No. 18, Post-Colonial Discourse in South Asia (1998), page 99
[5] Awasthi, Suresh: Shakespeare in Hindi. In: Indian Literature, Vol. 7, No. 1 (1964), page 53
[6] Gupta, Amitkumar: The policy of Sir James Fergusson as Governor of Bombay Presidency, 1880-1885, SOAS University of London, 1967. Abstract of PhD thesis: ethos.bl.uk/OrderDetails.do?uin=uk.bl.ethos.817172 (accessed 30th November 2020)
[7] Folger Shakespeare Library podcast: Shakespeare Unlimited, January 27, 2016. Barbara Bogaev interviews Jyotsma Singh, Professor of English at Michigan State University and Modhumita Roy, Associate Professor of English at Tufts. Folger.edu/Shakespeare-unlimited/india

Bibliography

Awasthi, Suresh: Shakespeare in Hindi. In: Indian Literature, Vol. 7, No. 1 (1964), pp. 51-62
Babble.com/en/magazine/the_10_most_spoken_languages_in_the_world (accessed 30th November 2020)
Bhatia, Nandi: “Shakespeare” and the codes of empire in India. In: Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics, No. 18, Post-Colonial Discourse in South Asia (1998), pp. 96-126
Bhattacharyya, S. K.: Shakespeare and Bengali Theatre. In: Indian Literature, Vol. 7, No. 1 (1964), pp. 27-40
En.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_English_words_of_Hindi_or_Urdu-origin (accessed 30th November 2020)
Folger.edu/Shakespeare-unlimited/india
Folger Shakespeare Library podcast: Shakespeare Unlimited, January 27, 2016. Barbara Bogaev interviews Jyotsma Singh, Professor of English at Michigan State University and Modhumita Roy, Associate Professor of English at Tufts. 
Gupta, Amitkumar: The policy of Sir James Fergusson as Governor of Bombay Presidency, 1880-1885, SOAS University of London, 1967. Abstract of PhD thesis: ethos.bl.uk/OrderDetails.do?uin=uk.bl.ethos.817172 (accessed 30th November 2020)
Rajadhyaksha, M. V.: Shakespeare in Marathi. In: Indian Literature, Vol. 7, No. 1 (1964) pp 83-94
Singh, Jyotsna: Different Shakespeares: The Bard in Colonial/Postcolional India. In: Theatre Journal, Vol. 41, No. 4, Theatre and Hegemony, December 1989, pp. 445-485
Tharoor, Shashi: Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India. Penguin Books, 2016

Recommended blogs

See all blogs