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An Analysis of Laura Bohannan's Paper on Shakespeare

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Words: 711 |

Pages: 2|

4 min read

Published: Jun 6, 2024

Words: 711|Pages: 2|4 min read

Published: Jun 6, 2024

Table of contents

  1. Cultural Relativity and the Universality of Shakespeare
  2. Language and Meaning
  3. The Role of the Anthropologist
  4. Implications for Literary Studies

Laura Bohannan's essay, "Shakespeare in the Bush," serves as a fascinating exploration into the universality of Shakespeare's works through the lens of cultural anthropology. In the essay, Bohannan recounts her experience of attempting to convey the story of "Hamlet" to the Tiv people of West Africa. Her narrative provides a rich tapestry for examining the cross-cultural interpretations of literary texts, challenging the notion that Shakespeare's themes are universally understood. Bohannan's essay reveals the complexities of cultural translation and the limitations of assuming a shared human experience.

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Cultural Relativity and the Universality of Shakespeare

The core of Bohannan's essay revolves around a critical question: Can Shakespeare's themes be universally understood, or are they deeply rooted in specific cultural contexts? Bohannan initially believes in the universal appeal and understanding of Shakespeare, a belief rooted in her academic background. However, as she narrates "Hamlet" to the Tiv elders, she encounters interpretations and reactions that starkly contrast with her own understanding of the play.

For instance, the concept of ghostly apparitions, central to the plot of "Hamlet," is met with skepticism and reinterpretation by the Tiv elders. In Tiv culture, the appearance of a ghost is not a viable explanation of events. Instead, they propose that the ghost is an omen or a witchcraft manifestation, reflecting their own cultural beliefs and practices. This divergence highlights the idea that cultural backgrounds shape our interpretations and understanding of narratives, challenging the assumption of a universal Shakespeare.

Language and Meaning

Language plays a crucial role in Bohannan's narrative, illustrating the difficulties of translating not just words but meanings and concepts across cultures. The Tiv language lacks direct equivalents for many of the terms and ideas found in "Hamlet." For example, the concept of a "king" as understood in a European context does not align neatly with Tiv social structures. Bohannan's struggle to find equivalent terms underscores the inherent difficulties in cross-cultural communication.

Moreover, the nuances and subtleties of Shakespeare's language are often lost or transformed in translation. This is evident when Bohannan attempts to explain the intricate relationships and motivations of the characters in "Hamlet." The Tiv elders interpret these relationships through the lens of their own social norms and values, leading to reinterpretations that differ significantly from the original text. This underscores the idea that language is not a neutral medium but is deeply embedded with cultural meanings and assumptions.

The Role of the Anthropologist

Bohannan's essay also raises important questions about the role of the anthropologist as a mediator between cultures. As an outsider attempting to convey a piece of her own culture to the Tiv people, Bohannan finds herself in a complex position. She is both a storyteller and a cultural translator, navigating the delicate balance between respecting the Tiv's interpretations and asserting her own understanding of "Hamlet."

This dynamic is evident in Bohannan's interactions with the Tiv elders. As they offer their interpretations and challenge her explanations, Bohannan must grapple with her own assumptions and biases. Her initial confidence in the universality of Shakespeare gives way to a more nuanced understanding of the complexities of cross-cultural communication. This shift reflects a broader theme in anthropology: the importance of reflexivity and the recognition of the anthropologist's own positionality in the research process.

Implications for Literary Studies

Bohannan's essay has significant implications for the field of literary studies, particularly in the context of interpreting and teaching canonical texts like Shakespeare. Her experience with the Tiv people challenges the notion that there is a single, authoritative interpretation of a literary work. Instead, it suggests that interpretations are inherently shaped by cultural contexts and that multiple, equally valid readings can coexist.

This perspective encourages a more inclusive and pluralistic approach to literary studies, one that values diverse interpretations and recognizes the limitations of imposing a singular cultural framework. It also underscores the importance of considering the cultural specificity of literary texts and the ways in which they are received and understood by different audiences.

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In conclusion, Laura Bohannan's "Shakespeare in the Bush" provides a compelling exploration of the interplay between culture, language, and interpretation. Through her narrative, Bohannan challenges the assumption of a universal Shakespeare, highlighting the ways in which cultural contexts shape our understanding of literary texts. Her essay serves as a valuable reminder of the complexities of cross-cultural communication and the importance of embracing diverse perspectives in literary studies.

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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

Cite this Essay

An Analysis of Laura Bohannan’s Paper on Shakespeare. (2024, Jun 05). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 12, 2024, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/an-analysis-of-laura-bohannans-paper-on-shakespeare/
“An Analysis of Laura Bohannan’s Paper on Shakespeare.” GradesFixer, 05 Jun. 2024, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/an-analysis-of-laura-bohannans-paper-on-shakespeare/
An Analysis of Laura Bohannan’s Paper on Shakespeare. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/an-analysis-of-laura-bohannans-paper-on-shakespeare/> [Accessed 12 Jun. 2024].
An Analysis of Laura Bohannan’s Paper on Shakespeare [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2024 Jun 05 [cited 2024 Jun 12]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/an-analysis-of-laura-bohannans-paper-on-shakespeare/
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