Paul Smith, scholar and cultural counsellor at the British Embassy in Egypt admits that the single most compelling force in his life has been William Shakespeare.
The former director of the British Council in west India will thus present a lecture on the eminent poet and dramatist at the behest of the Vasant J Sheth Memorial Foundation, a charitable trust that promotes education, welfare and publishing in maritime related areas, as part of their annual lecture series.
As someone who has “lived and loved” Shakespeare since he was 15, Smith’s talk, titled ‘Shakespeare and the Seas’, will shed light on the playwright’s multiple references to the sea in many of his seminal texts. Only someone who has followed Shakespeare closely could draw erudite conclusions on the bard’s maritime fascination.
“It was a time when the Atlantic was being explored, new worlds were being discovered and the horrors of colonialism were underway. But beyond these practical considerations, the sea becomes a living metaphor in the context of his plays. It’s amazing that in over half the plays the sea, specifically the Mediterranean Sea is immensely relevant,” said Smith (54).
Smith will highlight the powerful metaphysical presence of the sea and the possibilities of change it presents in texts such as Pericles, Prince of Tyre, Antony and Cleopatra, The Comedy of Errors, King Lear, Hamlet and The Tempest.
Smith’s fascination for Shakespeare was compounded at Cambridge, where he gained a double first in English and later as a Shakespeare professor at St Stephen’s College in Delhi. “Othello and Macbeth are not the sort of books you read in an armchair. Yet theatre, the most uniquely transferable cultural form has ensured that he is read and performed in every country. I’ve seen Shakespeare performed in about 30 countries and while the plays naturally take up the values and dispositions of the people performing them, the common elemental values of the text always come through,” Smith said.
During his five-year tenure in India, Smith directed huge productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Hamlet in Bangladesh. “We performed with a diverse cultural group, which further proved the incredible transferability of the guy.
Had I not known him and loved him I would be a different person today. He clearly stands out in a league of his own,” said Smith.
(The lecture, Shakespeare and the Seas will take place at the Yacht Club on January 14, at 7 pm )