Shakespeare – Indian ?

By Maxwell Pereira
maxpk@vsnl.com

A debate had raged a while ago, regarding the claimed actual origins of the greatest ever play-write, Shakespeare. The controversy was over the belief of some Arabs that the Bard of Avon was indeed their own Arab trader Sheik-Zabir, whose literary legacy the English had usurped! According to them, the worthy while in England on business, had observed the obsession of the locals for theatre, and sought to use this to his advantage. To promote his own trade by catering to their love of the stage, he put up a play titled Othello based on a Mediterranean tragedy he was familiar with. The play was a run-away success, and its writer was motivated into writing more for the stage; which ultimately led to this Arab trader to permanently settle in England.

I had occasion recently to remember this tale, when I encountered an even more intriguing claim that Shakespeare was in fact an Indian, and really a woman. A claim like the Arabs’ Sheik-Zabir, and more, recorded in 1942 in the college magazine of my alma mater St Aloysius’ at Mangalore – through the humorous pen of an alumnus Haridas Purshattam. This interesting piece of writing merited a place in the compilation “On Eagle’s Wings” of tid-bits put together by Prashanth Madtha from across 125 years of the College’s existence.

Dr Aybeesee Ph.D (Physical Director), the worthy informed his fellow college mates – during his recent excavations at Konchadi, had come across a rare inscription to prove that Shakespeare was none other than Tippu’s soldier Sheshappayya. During the Third Mysore War, this soldier was taken prisoner by the British. Cornwallis mistook him for Tippu himself, and took him to England where he was received by Sir Walter Raleigh. By the time Cornwallis realised his blunder and released him, Raleigh had been so deeply impressed by Sheshappaiyya, that he urged him to stay on. Sheshappaiyya gained employment in the Globe Theatre and started writing dramas (plays) and eventually was transformed into Shakespeare.

If this story was not enough, the writer had more – this one from the ‘unearthly’ pot in Bengal that Professor Exwyzed M.Sc. (Moral Science) had unearthed. Here, one Shah Behari who went to England for higher studies, fell in love with a not-so-beautiful lady. He then abandoned not the lady, but the idea of his return to India, and remained with his name changed to Shakespeare. In yet another tale, it was Khan Sahib Prof Hakeem M.D. of Kasaigully who discovered an inscription at Kudroli. Here it was Sheik Byari, a wealthy perfumer and a poet who went to England to become Shakespeare.

The writer in the St. Aloysius’ magazine continued, with another latest discovery by a gentleman who preferred to remain incognito – for only he knew that Shakespeare was a woman! And that was queen Mumtaz mahal, generally known as Shah-ki-Pyari (darling of the Shah). She received English education, wished to go to England to play tennis in slacks at Oxford; where, lo and behold, her name was entered in the Oxford rolls as Shakespeare instead of Shahkipyari.

The legends and myths surrounding Shakespeare are legion. But I am sure none of them would have made the poor play-write turn in his grave as many times as the ones perhaps that link him to his Indian origins – so claimed, in my College Annual of 1942. More, the one that makes him not a he, but a she.

William Shakespeare, the Brits are very sure, was born in England, on 23 April – the date known traditionally; and the register at the Holy Trinity Church at his birthplace Stratford, records his baptism on 26th April. He was one of Mary and John Shakespeares’ five children, of whom two died before William was born, and another was lost when still young. The town Stratford-upon-Avon where he was born in 1564 is located in the centre of England, which has always been, and still is, an important river-crossing settlement and market centre.

William’s father, John, trained as a glove-maker and married Mary Arden, the daughter of Robert Arden, a farmer from the nearby village of Wilmcote. John and Mary set up home in Henley Street, Stratford, in the house now known as Shakespeare's Birthplace. John Shakespeare was a prominent citizen, serving on the town council for many years and becoming Bailiff, or Mayor, in 1568. Besides his craft as a glover, he traded as a wool dealer and was also involved in money-lending.

As the son of a leading townsman, William is said to have studied at Stratford. Some of his ideas for plots and characters probably came from Ovid's tales, the plays of Terence and Plautus, and Roman history. It is not known what Shakespeare did when he left school. At the age of 18, in November 1582, he married Anne Hathaway (26), the daughter of Richard Hathaway, a local farmer. They had three children - Susanna, and twins Hamnet and Judith.

No one knows when or why Shakespeare left Stratford for London, or what he was doing before becoming a professional actor and dramatist in the capital. Among the tales concerning his 'lost years' between 1585 and 1592, is one that tells how he was caught poaching deer in Charlecote Park, near Stratford, and went off to London to avoid prosecution.

Shakespeare's reputation was established in London by 1592; in the year Robert Greene, another dramatist, called him 'an upstart crow' - envious of his success. 1n 1594, Shakespeare joined others in forming a new theatre company, under the patronage of the Lord Chamberlain, and for almost twenty years remained its regular dramatist, producing on average two plays a year.



900 words: 07.03.2005: Copy Right © Maxwell Pereira: 3725 Sec-23, Gurgaon-122002. You can interact with the author at http:// www.maxwellperira.com and maxpk@vsnl.com

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