Bard-ji on the beach: Postcolonial artists write back to Shakespeare

Claire Chambers in Dawn:

ScreenHunter_1610 Jan. 10 12.22Shakespeare’s 1603 tragedy Othello has long been ripe for adaptation and postcolonial rewritings. As the Pakistani novelist Zulfikar Ghose observes in his book This Mortal Knowledge, Othello is a truly noble man, in contrast to the calumny of “lascivious Moor” with which Iago taints him. In fact, if Othello has a fault, Ghose suggests that it is his “sexual frugality”, which leads him to make too great a distinction between body and spirit. This enables Iago to work on both Othello’s jealousy about his wife and on the “base racial instinct” Iago shares with his fellow white Venetians. The consequence is that a “beast with two backs” is created — not through sexual union but the conjoining of Desdemona and Othello in death. With its Molotov cocktail of false friendship, racism, military careers, and extreme sexual possessiveness, Othello proves irresistible to many artists from postcolonial backgrounds.

In 1966, the Sudanese author Tayeb Salih published an Arabic-language novel Mawsim al-Hijra ila al-Shamal. It was translated into the English title Season of Migration to the North in 1969 and is now a Penguin Modern Classic. In this cornerstone text for postcolonialism, Salih depicts the cultural conflict that ensues when two rural Sudanese Muslims move to Britain and then return to Africa.

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