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Skip to 0 minutes and 5 seconds One theme in this course is the global popularity of Shakespeare, and we’ve heard from actors who have performed Shakespeare all around the world. So we performed in Qatar, Abu Dhabi, and Dubai. Japanese audiences probably approach Much Ado About Nothing thinking that it’s a foreign play set in Italy. So we performed Hamlet in Zimbabwe, but we also performed it in South Africa. In the next clip, you’ll hear Shaheen talking about a British-Asian performance of Macbeth in which she played Lady Macbeth. The production toured around Britain. As you remember, Macbeth starts with three witches, and Shaheen talks about how the roles of the witches in her British-Asian version were actually taken by hijras.

Skip to 0 minutes and 57 seconds Now, hijras in India are actually transgender or transsexual people, and they often feature at weddings and other special occasions in India. Let’s hear from Shaheen, who toured her production of Macbeth and played to predominantly Asian audiences in the UK. So many Indian films and stories have taken their inspiration from Shakespeare that obviously they relate to it and it’s relevant for them. And so for us, taking our Asian version of Macbeth through Britain was quite extraordinary. The British-Asian audience loved it, as did a lot of white audiences, actually. What a lot of white people really liked was that they saw a different take on a lot of the Shakespeares they’d seen. I mean, for example, our witches were hijras.

Skip to 2 minutes and 0 seconds Now, hijras in India are actually transvestites, transgender. They’re actually seen as the third gender. For me, that was very exciting using the hijras as the witches in Macbeth, and the audience loved it. And it was interesting, because there were people who said they’ve seen lots of Macbeths, but they’ve never seen that kind of interpretation of the witches. And there was this lovely woman in one of the venues, and she’d come with her children. And she said, it’s really interesting, because this is their first Macbeth. I’ve seen lots, and my first Macbeth was the typical witches with the pointy hats.

Skip to 2 minutes and 46 seconds And their version, which they will take with them through their lifetime, will be these half men, half women in these beautiful, colourful clothes. I think also we found quite a lot of comedy in witches as well, which I think is great. Because you don’t want the witches to just be this one-dimensional, spooky kind of thing. You kind of want them to be a bit more. And what I loved about our Macbeth was actually there was quite a lot of comedy for such a dark piece. Somehow, the hijras managed to bring something special.

Performing Shakespeare across the world

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is set in 11th century Scotland but many modern productions change the timeframe and the location.

Shaheen’s production of Macbeth was set in the present day, and featured an Asian family instead of a Scottish king. She feels that the modern casting and costumes can ‘bring something special’ to a production.

As we have seen in earlier steps, Shakespeare’s plays have been adapted to different times and locations. The actors can wear modern costumes and the sets and staging can be different and imaginative.

What do you think about this?

  • Would you rather watch a ‘traditional’ production of a Shakespeare play with costumes like those of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries or a ‘modern’ production adapted to a different time? Why?
  • If Macbeth was performed in your country, what historical period could it be set in? Or would it be better to set it in the present day?

Share your ideas.

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This video is from the free online course:

Exploring English: Shakespeare

British Council