Snapshots of a Shakespearean in China


Sidney Homan


A Shakespearean scholar, who also works in commercial and university theatres as an actor and director, recounts his experiences in the 1980s at Jilin University in Changchun City in the People’s Republic of China. Invited to stage Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, he becomes, instead, a student of a theatre predating his own by 5,000 years. He tells of a Chinese King Lear where the father is a clown, trying to win back his Cordelia through trickery, and of a Marxist Prize-winning play whose author took more pleasure in the inner life of his characters than the work’s overt propaganda. He also discovers ways in which improvised music, played by onstage musicians, can function like a Greek chorus, for both the director and the audience. In turn, Homan exposed his actors to what was, for them, the relatively new concept of subtext, in a production he directed of Beckett’s Come and Go.Working with a translator in the classroom, he rediscovers the pictorial roots of his own language even as he has to rethink what he thought he knew about Shakespeare. No less, he learns from an earnest young actor who, at a public meeting, asks him a question at once (seemingly) impossible and profound, “Why, sir, is Shakespeare eternal?” —a question it took the visitor two hours to answer.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.