Shakespeare in Bengaluru's Cubbon Park on a Saturday

Why Arun Jaitley might have enjoyed watching Shakespeare in Cubbon Park
Blog Shakespeare Sunday, November 29, 2015 - 19:26

Trust Shakespeare’s plays to be relevant a few 100 years after he wrote them. But also trust people of every generation to interpret familiar stories in new ways. That’s how a group of young people showed two of the Bard’s most celebrated tales, as stories of same-sex love and non-rigid gender identities.

Juliet was a man with a woman’s name, and in love with a man who loved Juliet back.

It was pure coincidence, perhaps, that on a day that Juliet stood in Bengaluru’s Cubbon Park wondering aloud how a name mattered, that the country’s finance minister Arun Jaitley was coming out in support of same-sex love.

A scene from A Midsummer Night's Dream

“When millions of people world over are having alternative sexual preferences, it is too late in the day to propound a view that they should be jailed. The Delhi High Court's view appears more acceptable,” Jaitley said at the Times Lit Fest. Arun Jaitley may be the only senior BJP leader to have made such a public statement. In July 2014, Tamil Nadu BJP leader had released a book on LGBTQ rights.

Back in the bamboo grove in Cubbon Park on Saturday evening, dressed in a crisp white shirt, grey-and-yellow-striped scarf and grey trousers, Juliet declared urgently demanded to know whether Romeo really did love him. Romeo was hep: his style quotient came from wearing a navy shirt over a white one, with the sleeved rolled up.

Romeo on the left and Juliet on the right. The boulder against which Juliet is leaning, was the prop for the famous balcony.

Put together by a group of young professionals based in the city, the event was simply called “Shakespeare in Cubbon Park”. On Facebook, the event page merely asked people to turn up at Victoria statue, whence event volunteers would guide them to the spot where the performance was being held.

Walk across the lawn, and behind the boulder, and Lo! You’ve reached the venue: multiple stages separated by bamboo clusters, and a violinist standing by the placard (for instance, The Macbeths) announcing the venue of the performance.

Perhaps by chance or by deliberate design, the selection of scenes reflected the social and political atmosphere that has dominated public consciousness for some months. You could call it an illuminating 140-character-style theatrical response to grabbing short attention spans.

Back at the bamboo grove. Introducing the courtroom scene from The Merchant of Venice, the narrator asks the audience to think on questions of justice and mercy, and whether the two are mutually exclusive.

Merchant of Venice is a play about Shylock who is owed some money by a merchant named Antonio. According to the bond, if Antonio fails to pay up, Shylock would be entitled to a pound of (Antonio’s) flesh.

Standing in the black gown of the present-day Indian advocate, Portia (Bassanio’s wife in disguise) urges Shylock to take the money that Bassanio offered, which was twice the original loan amount.

A scene from Merchant of Venice

Ultimately, Portia uses the letter of the law – the wording of the bond – to tell Shylock that if he extracted anything more (even a drop of blood) than half a pound of flesh, his estate would be seized by the government. In the end, Shylock acquiesces.

Should the spirit of the law be merciful?

The violinist plays a tune, telling the audience to go to the ‘An eye for an eye’ stage, where a scene from the play Measure for Measure, would be enacted. Here, Shakespeare asks us to re-think seduction.

A nun is pleading with the Duke of Vienna for mercy for her brother who is to be hanged tomorrow. When the Duke refuses to budge, she leaves, but the Duke was, literally, hot under the collar on account of the nun’s passionate pleas for mercy for her brother. He wonders aloud, whether he saw desire where there was none.

A scene from Measure for Measure

Does seduction lie in the mind of the one who desires? And the violin sounds again.

The scene from Macbeth, in which Lady Macbeth is convincing her husband not to back down from their plan of murdering the king, is gender-stereotype inverted. But it was also a powerful performance delivered despite the actors having to avoid tripping on the bramble lying on the ground.

Lastly, coming back to same-sex love and fluid gender identities, the group performed a scene from As You Like it, one of Shakespeare’s comedies about love. This one featured two women, one of whom was trying to convince her female suitor with a man’s name, that she could cure her of the malady called ‘love’.

A scene from As You Like It

While some of the earlier performances are those that appeal to the head, the last two stories of love, are the ones that appeal to the heart.

Had Jaitley been in Cubbon Park one fine Saturday evening, perhaps he might have thought the same.

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