Lesson 12: Shakespeare and Social Commentary


Classical Adaptations

  • Self-contained in its art—《血手記》, 《王子復仇記》, 《河洛歌仔戲》
  • Incorporating Western elements—《慾望城國》,《馬克白夫人》
  • Incorporating contemporary jokes—《熱天兮戀夢》, 《無事生非》
  • Still, all these adaptations are self-sufficient; there is no direct contact with audience / society / world except for some harmless jokes.
  • Subversive? Only artistically so (within a given theatre, a given genre), not sociopolitically so.

Sociopolitical Shakespeare

  • Othello—discrimination based on skin color (in many modern adaptations, OJ Simpson).
  • Romeo and Juliet—provincial complex and political opposition (West Side Story).
  • Macbeth—legitimacy, rebellion, regicide, political regeneration
  • King Lear—same problems
  • 《彼岸花》 suggested it, but provided solution—there is no real reconciliation.
  • 《慾望城國》and《血手記》 could take this approach, but didn't—too timid, or too insensitive?

Beijing Opera Lear Alone《李爾在此》


  • Children's (Lear's three daughters, Edgar, Edward) Oedipal complex with father figure (Lear, Gloucester).
  • Youth's challenging of older authority.
  • In romantic comedy—you challenge authority with free love (A Midsummer Night's Dream, later The Tempest).
  • In tragedy—love can also be an incentive (Romeo and Juliet) but more importantly it involves political power (Macbeth, King Lear).
  • Political regeneration (in family or state, family // state).
  • Not only about power, but also about love.
  • Artist's frustration with the situation of traditional opera (no government financial or moral support, no domestic audience) // under-appreciated, under-loved children's frustration with unfair, unjust fathers.
  • Artist's frustration (no government financial or moral support, no domestic audience) // feeling of betrayed fathers.
  • Parent-children love—supposed to be natural, unconditional, unchanged; it really hurts when they betray your expectation.


  • General chaos in society—bad children, bad parents, lying, cheating, etc.
  • General political chaos—stupid ruler, evil officials dominating, good officials scorned.
  • Typical Chinese motifs "beauty and fragrant herbs," "sun and clouds"
  • Madmen lead the blind—our politics.
  • Not only stupid, but also evil leadership (Bush, Chen)— incompetent, short-sighted, and selfish leadership that is wholly faith-based.
  • Who is there to answer our pain, our suffering? Old Grandpa Heaven?
  • Unfeeling universe—tempest, typhoon, flood, earthquake.
  • Human disasters—still, nobody answers, nobody takes responsibility .

Artistic Conscious

  • Role-playing as actor's career.
  • Role-playing in real life—we are father, son, daughter, clown, good, bad.
  • If Lear is victim, isn't he also a victimizer?
  • We are Lear, Gloucester, Coedelia, Edgar, but also Corneil, Edward.
  • Are we not responsible? Are we not to blame?
  • Lear's anger is not only directed to his bad daughters, but also to himself, perhaps even more so (same with Gloucester).
  • Madam Bovary, c'est moi!
  • Make Shakespeare speak your own words—anger, madness, pride, willfulness, they are all my best friends! I am Lear! Every inch of me is Lear! I was born Lear! I was destined to be Lear!
  • Fundamental question—who am I?
  • Shakespeare verbatim, but can indeed be your own mind, your own heart, your own psyche.
  • Our Shakespeare.
  • We feel the same with some popular songs, but the diversity of Shakespeare actually is more so, despite his foreignness.

© 2005 by Bi-qi Beatrice Lei. All rights reserved.