Thursday, March 01, 2018

Much Ado About Shakespeare

Prof C. Marydass has enjoyed a lifelong love for the master’s works. His work, ‘Shakespearean Aesthetics for University Wits’ has just been selected as a reference book at MG University.

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photos: Prof C. Marydass by Albin Mathew; William Shakespeare and the speech 

Teacher Mary Camoens stood in front of the blackboard and said:

The quality of mercy is not strained,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”

Most of the Class 10 students at the Infant Jesus Anglo Indian School at Tangasseri looked on attentively as Mary carried on reciting the speech by Portia from William Shakespeare’s play, ‘The Merchant Of Venice’.

But there was one student who was awestruck. His name was C Marydass. Little did he know then that Mary would engender in him a lifelong love and admiration for Shakespeare.

After getting a doctorate in English literature, Prof Marydass spent decades teaching Shakespeare to graduate and post-graduate students of Sacred Heart College, Thevara. Following his retirement in 2001, he taught at the Sree Sankaracharya University at Kalady and is now an Academic Counsellor with The Indira Gandhi National Open University (Kaloor Regional Centre).

And he had a bit of good news recently. His work, ‘Shakespearean Aesthetics for University Wits’ has been selected as a reference book for English literature students at MG University. He is hoping his other books – ‘A Shakespearean Vision of Human Regeneration’, ‘Shakespeare's Regeneration plays: A Metacritical Perspective’ and ‘What Yokes Shakespeare and Tagore?’ – will be selected.

Asked why Shakespeare is being read after 400 years, Marydass says, “His work contains universal themes. Human relationships are the same all over the world. Shakespeare holds a mirror up to human nature and society.”

The English dramatist concentrated on some major themes. “In the comedies, like ‘All’s Well That Ends Well’, and ‘As You Like it’, he focused on the subject of love at first sight. It culminates in family happiness and social union,” says Marydass. “In the tragedies (‘Julius Caesar’, ‘Macbeth’) we have the great paradox of human nature: the fullness of life in contrast to its brevity, culminating in death. As a dramatist, he was able to sketch people from all walks of life. So his characters are very realistic.”

Asked about the play he likes the most, Marydass mentions ‘The Tempest’. “It is Shakespeare's most humanistic play,” he says. “And it reflects the father of humanistic philosophy René Descartes who had stated that man is a composite of body and mind, unified in a transcendental way.”

While Shakespeare dealt in lofty principles, he was an ordinary man in every sense of the word. “In fact, he was a ladies' man,” says Marydass. “He loved many women and took delight in romance. But he did feel he was a morally weak man. However, when he married Anne Hathaway, who was eight years senior to him, Shakespeare stopped his womanising. He realised that family life is sacred. In his romances (‘The Winter’s Tale’/’Cymbeline’), he upheld the sanctity of friendship and marriage.”

As he went about writing his plays, Shakespeare also faced a lot of opposition. “He was always the centre of rivalry and jealousy,” says Marydass. “Scholars who were associated with Oxford and Cambridge Universities felt that they were the intellectual leaders of the time. Shakespeare had only a school education. They considered him an upstart, who borrowed his ideas.” 

In fact, for his historical and romantic plays, Shakespeare had culled material from ‘Holinshed's Chronicles’, by writer Raphael Holinshed, which explores British history at length. As for his tragedies, he depended on Thomas North’s 'The Lives Of The Romans And The Grecians'.

Meanwhile, Marydass is frank enough to admit that students in Kerala find Shakespeare outdated. “The main reason is the language,” says Marydass. “Shakespeare wrote Latinised English. To understand Shakespeare you need to know a bit of Latin.”

These days, there are other options in the syllabus, too. “They can study subjects like feminism, Canadian, American and Australian literature, besides Indian writing in English,” says Marydass. “They are not interested in the Renaissance period of England, in which Shakespeare thrived. I believe the only way Shakespeare will remain relevant in Kerala is on the stage, where his plays can be enacted rather than through the printed word.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

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