Shakespeare in Singapore: Performance, Education and Culture is a thought-provoking read by Dr Philip Smith, an English professor at Savannah College of Art and Design. It outlines the role of Shakespeare’s works in Singapore’s performing arts scene and English literature education from 1819 till 2019. Over the course of the years, Shakespeare’s works have either been performed to closely resemble his original works or have been adapted to suit the local culture here. In relation to the latter, the adaptations have resulted in changes in time periods, languages, locations and cultures. However, as not all segments of our society have a thorough knowledge on Shakespeare’s works, the book acknowledges that Shakespeare’s original works as well as local adaptations do not have a mass appeal in Singapore presently. It only appeals to a niche market, such as people who are fond of English literature, Shakespeare’s plays or are keen to develop a deeper or better understanding of his works.
Besides looking into the role and impact of Shakespeare’s works in Singapore, the book also examines the reasons why Shakespeare’s works were introduced into our local education and arts scene and continues to stay here. These reasons, in turn, bring to our attention 2 contrasting camps of people in Singapore. On one hand, the supporters feel that Shakespeare’s works are classics and therefore useful in enhancing our appreciation of English literature. In addition, Shakespeare’s works can be adapted to suit our local culture and therefore help in the development of our local arts scene. In contrast, there are also people who are less enthusiastic about the role Shakespeare’s works has had and continues to have in our local culture and education as knowledge and understanding about his works do not have much relevance in most jobs here.
While it remains to be seen how much of an influence will Shakespeare’s works continue to have on our local arts and education scene, do consider watching “Chicken rice war”, a 2000 Singaporean adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet” that was highlighted in the book and that is available in NUS Libraries.