Shakespeare’s naija sisters

shake-5Did you know that today, 23th April is the 400th anniversary of the death of one of the most famous wordsmiths on earth who goes by the name of Shakespeare? Hard to imagine that, to this day, four centuries on, we still quote the Bard, know the names of at least three or four of his characters, and his plays are still performed across the globe from The Two Gentlemen of Verona in Shona to The Winter’s Tale in Yoruba.
We even owe many of our commonplace phrases to the man himself – think ‘the green-eyed monster’, or ‘for goodness’ sake’ or ‘good riddance’. Yes, all Shakespeare’s creations in our day-to-day language…

All through the four years of university back home in Turkey, my nickname was ‘Shakespeare’s sister’ – possibly because of my love of writing but also my passion for English literature, especially Shakespeare. No wonder I went on to do a Master’s all dedicated to Shakespeare! But as well as the issues of identity, race, displacement, I was equally, if not more so, fascinated by his strong female characters. He conjured up the wise-cracking Beatrice, cross-dressing Viola and Rosalind, the conniving Lady Macbeth? And this is all in an age where women were considered little more than possessions to be passed on from father to husband with no name, no land, no opinion to claim as their own.
I was inspired by the strength of truthful Cordelia who had the strength to stand up to her father and say, “I love your Majesty according to my bond; no more nor less” or another courageous young woman Juliet who had the guts to outright protest an arranged marriage, Now, by Saint Peter’s Church and Peter too, he shall not make me there a joyful bride!”

In a world which is still pretty much, let’s face is, a man’s world, maybe we need to see more of Shakespeare’s strong, spirited, sassy heroines. Those women who stand dignified even as they are vilified – insulted like Cleopatra, tamed like Katherine, smothered like Desdemona. Us living in the Bard’s native England may be lucky but in other parts of the world, a Shakespearean play should not be a once-a-decade affair.

Let’s face it, almost half a millennium later, while in most parts of the world, women have the right to vote, own property, choose their own husband, or even choose not to settle down, and perhaps, most essentially, the right to a ‘room of one’s own’ (Those who’ve got the allusion, I love you! Others, you can send your answer on a postcard), there are still many parts of the world, where asking for the right to be educated, as a young girl can get your face blown of, or riding a bus past 8pm on your own is likely to be interpreted as an open invite for rape, or 232 girls in a northern town can be spirited away in the dead of the night.

shake-3Perhaps as much as I love Shakespeare’ women, I love Nigerian women – equally, if not more, strong, spirited and sassy. A Nigerian woman has the power to cut you down to size with one carefully considered word, or a fierce hiss, or a scathing side eye. You can try to insult, tame or smother a Nigerian woman, and yet she will rise, dignified and deadlier than ever. She can be out on the farm with her new-born on her back, or in the boardroom in her six inch Laboutins, she will defy expectations, break stereotypes and be her own woman in a world constantly trying to define her lines and edges. She colours her world outside the lines and with gusto and flourish. That’s for me, the Nigerian woman I have come to know, admire and look up to.

Now imagine Shakespeare’s women finding new life in Nigerian women, Nigerian women fleshing out Shakespeare’s women? For those blessed with the skills to build castles in the sky and see imaginary world on an empty page, the possibilities of Shakespeare and his women, the opportunities are endless.

Imagine those two worlds colliding to create a feminist feast for the eyes, the ears and the soul. Imagine Terra Kulture stage turning into Elsinore Castle in Denmark or The Muson Centre stage into the magical forest of Arden… Imagine LalaAkindoju’sCordelia against Bimbo Manuels’ King Lear, imagine ElvinaIbru as Beatrice, Joke Silva as Gertrude, Kate Henshaw as Lady Macbeth. Imagine Hamlet in Yoruba, Othello in Igbo, Macbeth in Hausa.

Don’t get me wrong, I truly enjoy the indigenous stories such as Waka or Saro, but why remake the same musical every other year when there is a whole canon to exploit and explore for new re-tellings? Those who’ve already seen it, currently on tour in the US, Hear Word Naijais an adaptation of The Vagina Monologues with stories that speak and smell of Nigeria. It makes me wonder what a Lagosian take on Shakespeare would be like.

So today, on the anniversary of the Bard’s death, I implore our playwrights – please give us #NigerianGirlMagic put together with #ShakespeareGirlMagic and set the stage on fire with that special blend of girl power.

Side Panel: Shake(speare) up your Life!

For Shakespeare fans, the opportunities are endless to shake up their desk, living space or even make-up bags. Check out these little gems that have me shaken and stirred.

For the Blushing Ladies
Juliet’s love story may have ended up in tragedy but your make-up need not be with this &Other Stories blushercompact which quotes Romeo and Juliet.

For the Passive Aggressive
Choice words you’d like to hurl at the office but can’t? Passive aggressive is the way forward with this mug from Philosopher’s Guild covered in Shakespearean insults.

For Wine O’Clock
Shakespeare Birthplace Trust caters to us vinos with these coasters. If you often find yourself quoting Coriolanus (“Have we no wine here?”) let your coaster do the talking.

For the Mini Fierce
Teach her young the art of ‘fierce’ and let her tell the world with her wardrobe with this onesie from Alley & Rae.

For the Wordsmith
Get inspired by Shakespeare’s leading ladies to pen your masterpiece in this Zazzle notebook.

For the Arty Home
Jazz up your office or your living room with Shakespearean prints such as this one from Etsy quoting from The Tempest.

SinemBilen-Onabanjo is the marketing director of IC Publications, London.

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