Hamlet and Ophelia in Dhaka | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, May 28, 2011 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, May 28, 2011


Hamlet and Ophelia in Dhaka

How do you celebrate the birthday of the greatest dramatist and playwright, William Shakespeare, that is? Joining up with a Bard birthday bash at Stratford-upon-Avon would be the best way to celebrate it. Since that is possible for only a few, others may choose to enjoy a play or read a sonnet or a long poem to get into the spirit.
There may be hundreds of ways to celebrate the Bard's birthday. William Shakespeare's 447th birthday was celebrated by the English and Humanities Department of University of Liberal Arts, Bangladesh on April 24 with all spirit and sincerity. The evening programme featured an exhibition of pictures on the Bard's life and times, followed by a play 'Hamlet in Love', by Professor Mohit Ul Alam and directed by Tahmina Zaman.
The programme was inaugurated by Dr. Serajul Islam Choudhury, Professor Emeritus, University of Dhaka and attended by, among others, Professor Rafiqul Islam. VC, ULAB, and Kazi Shahed Ahmed, President, ULAB Governing Body. Professor Islam traced studies of the Bard in Bangla back to as many as two hundred years. Sree Girish Chandra Sen is the first known translator of Shakespeare in Bangla. Though more than one writer translated entire works of the Bard in Bangla and many scholars and avid readers memorized him in entirety, there is still a long way to go if we want to understand the spirit of his works. Dr. Rafiqul Islam noted how Shaheed Munier Chowdhury's rendering of Shakespeare's 'The Taming of The Shrew' into its Bangla version 'Mukhara Ramani Bashikaran' in pre-liberation days became popular on radio, television and stage. Kazi Shahed in his short speech remarked on the universality of Shakespeare in our society, making a pointed reference to King Lear's frantic efforts to cling to power even after his abdication of it.
In an exuberant, impassioned and thought provoking speech, Dr. Serajul Islam Choudhury agreed with the speakers and emphasized the need for inculcating and nurturing the spirit embedded in the life and works of Shakespeare in our day to day life. He mentioned how Shakespeare rose to the heights of glory from an ordinary beginning as the keeper of horses of those who came to enjoy the plays. The Bard had to make great sacrifices for the welfare of his family, who were left in Stratford-upon-Avon. His daughters remained illiterate. The eminent academic voiced his concern over the dearth of high quality translations of Shakespeare in Bangla. Professor Choudhury emphasized the need for promoting the Shakespearean spirit in the interest of intellectual as well as moral uplift.
The second part of the program brought forth a lively and spirited presentation of Mohit Ul Alam's avant garde play 'Hamlet in Love'. Alam has skillfully invoked characters from Shakespeare's tragedies, comedies and histories, drawing them into a play in which all go through much travail and suspense before ending up as an entertaining comedy.
A synopsis of the plot runs thus: Hamlet and Ophelia are classmates, studying English at a private university in Dhaka. They also love each other deeply, so much so that Ophelia will leave her father's house if need be. But she says to Hamlet that her father, Mr. Polonius, a very rich man, the owner of Ophelia Constructions, has arranged her marriage with a suitable candidate living in America by the name of Cassio. She probably won't be able to defy her father.
Hamlet is a brilliant student in his discipline, but Ophelia's warning makes him desperate, and his friends Macbeth, Antony, Iago and others craft out a plan to help Ophelia run away from her father's house, where she has been living a confined life. Rosalind, another classmate of Hamlet, becomes worried at seeing Hamlet lose his concentration on studies over his feelings for Ophelia. She wants to ask Hamlet to desist from chasing Ophelia, and tells him that their teacher, Mrs. Gertrude, is equally worried about Hamlet's falling grades.
However, Hamlet and his friends execute the elopement plan successfully in the middle of the night, and on the following morning, when Hamlet and Ophelia go to the Kazi's office to register their marriage, the officer in charge of Dhanmondi Thana turns up to arrest Hamlet on a charge of seduction and elopement filed by Mr. Polonius. In this riveting last scene, though, it emerges that Mr. Polonius has been willing to marry his daughter off to Hamlet; he only wanted to test the strength of their love. And so, along with his business partners, Richard Bolingbroke, King Richard III, and Prospero he devised a plan that would have the young couple prove their love in all earnestness. After the confusion is removed, the happy wedding takes place. A distribution of sweets among those present follows.
Zayed and Saima played the roles of 20th century versions of Hamlet and Ophelia who, with the support of their friends, could finally fulfill see their love requited.
Zayed, Saima, Satyajit, Wafi and Sarwat are Dhakaians who are in contemporary attire, carry themselves like all other Bangladeshis but always remind us that Alam has instilled in them the original spirit of Shakespeare's characters.

Md. Shafiqul Islam, a senior civil servant, was a student of English literature at Dhaka University in the mid 1970s.

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