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Research Spotlight: Dr. Amrita Dhar

November 16, 2022

Research Spotlight: Dr. Amrita Dhar

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Each month, the Communications Team reaches out to members of the Department of English faculty and asks them to elaborate on a current research or creative project they are working on or have recently completed. For this month, we asked Dr. Amrita Dhar about her project on postcolonial Shakespeare.  

Photo of Prof. Dhar

In your own words, as the expert that you are, can you explain the overview of your project? 

One of the projects I am currently working on is called “Shakespeare in the ‘Post’Colonies.” At the confluence of literary studies, postcolonial studies, adaptation and cross-cultural studies, theater and performance studies, and critical race studies, this project investigates what Shakespeare means in the twenty-first century in erstwhile colonial geographies (especially those under the British Empire), and how the various Shakespeares worldwide impact current questions of Indigenous rights, minority identities and caste politics in “post”colonial spaces.  

The violence of colonialism is such that there can be no truly post-colonial state, only a neo-colonial one. The most disenfranchised under colonial rule have only ever changed masters upon political “post"colonialism. Given the massive continued presence of Shakespeare everywhere that British colonial reach flourished, and the conviction among educators and theater practitioners that the study of Shakespeare can and should inform the language(s) of resisting injustice and inequity in our current world, this project explores the reality of twenty-first century Shakespeares in geographies of postcolonial inheritance, such as the Indian subcontinent, continental Africa, the Caribbean, Australasia, and indeed, North and South America.  

We ask what this presence of Shakespeare means for our world of strange mobilities and borders, estrangements and loyalties, distinct identities, and shared commitments. 

Now, could you shorten this description into one sentence that uses accessible language?  

“Shakespeare in the ‘Post’Colonies” is an open-access research and archiving project hosting interviews with leading creatives in the field of postcolonial Shakespeares from around the world. 

In what ways is your research significant?   

This project is born of the belief that serious intellectual work conducted in university settings can and should be made easily available and openly accessible to large and wide audiences of multiple backgrounds, varied levels of education or professional training, and manifold geographies. In other words, we believe that we as researchers have a responsibility to bring our best research and findings to not only our classrooms and our students, but also to our non-academic local and global communities.  

Harnessing the power of an open-access Internet site, therefore, this project will platform cutting-edge scholarly dialogues to engage public audiences from across the world. The project team is also aware that we are inhabiting a moment of unusual energy in a worldwide reckoning of inequities wrought under colonialism, genocide and slavery. As scholars and activists who have worked over the last several decades to highlight and discuss the very issues that are now at the forefront of so much public discourse, we want to further use this moment for energized discussions of multiple kinds of antiracist and anti-discriminatory thought, action and art across the world and mainly across those parts of the world that still bear the shadows of colonialism. We want to tell a story of creativity and resilience and writing-back and thinking-hard and doing-well, and we want to do this through in-depth discussion of the postcolonial inheritance generated by that man/matter of singular travels and uses in both colonial and resistance movements: Shakespeare. On the access side: we want this project to build up a repository of materials that will be used in subsequent research, teaching and public discourse in the US and beyond. 

Are you working with any colleagues or collaborators?  

I am working with two utterly extraordinary—and brilliant, and fun!—collaborators: Professors Adélékè Adéèkó (at Ohio State) and Amrita Sen (at the University of Calcutta). 

Is the project being funded or supported by any individuals or organizations that you would like us to acknowledge?  

“Shakespeare in the ‘Post’Colonies” really began with a seminar hosted by the Shakespeare Association of America in Spring of 2021. The seminar hosted a discussion between scholars, activists, writers, teachers and theater practitioners from over a dozen erstwhile colonial geographies about the stakes of reading, teaching, performing and “doing” Shakespeare in the “post”colonies today. At this Shakespeare Association of America seminar, many of the questions this project is engaged with were first threshed out and consolidated.  

But in its current form, this project is operating fundamentally with the support of a Large Grant from Ohio State’s College of Arts and Sciences. We are so pleased to acknowledge the College’s crucial support in making this exciting work possible. 

Where do you see this project going in the future?  

There are two connected projects in progress tied to this project under discussion.  

First: Amrita Sen and I are co-editing for Bloomsbury (a top publisher in Shakespeare studies) a volume with essays featuring a distinguished lineup of international contributors writing about Shakespeare in various “post”colonies. The book is under contract, and we are receiving some amazing work from our contributors even as I speak!  

Second: Amrita Sen and I are co-editing a special issue of the peer-reviewed journal Borrowers and Lenders: The Journal of Shakespeare and Appropriation on the subject of “Shakespeare in Bengal.” This issue is the first publication to focus on undivided Bengal as a locus of centuries-long and profoundly rich connections with Shakespeare. We are very excited to see these publications out in the world in the next year or two. 

What's next for you? What would you like to work on once this project is completed?  

While I am sure that “Shakespeare in the ‘Post’Colonies” will continue to evolve, the work I am engaged in alongside is for my monograph, Milton’s Blind LanguageMilton's Blind Language is a study of the workings of blindness towards the making of Milton’s poetry in his years of partial and complete loss of sight: so, all of Milton's psalm translations in his years of going blind, his later (and superlative!) sonnets, and, of course, the famous last poetic works, Paradise LostParadise Regained and Samson Agonistes. This project comes out of a long enchantment with Milton's final poetry, which has always struck me as profoundly non-normative in its mnemonic and associative capacities. I find fascinating, for instance, Milton's ability to train a reader of Paradise Lost to read/listen with the kind of attention that is rewarded hundreds of lines later with a resonant word or verb or image; his deeply moving autobiographical invocations, where his lived reality of blindness is presented in so many words to his readers/listeners; his use of his blindness as a reason for organizing the verse as he does, even as a compositional strategy, the very thing that re-confirms his commitment to poetry (something that we see in his psalm translations); his harnessing of the social support and amanuenses that allow these works to be recorded in the first place. (For, of course, Milton never wrote a line of Paradise Lost—his amanuenses did!)  

I'm really excited to read this very canonical verse through the lens of disability studies, which allows us to see, as many "traditional" readings don't fully enable us, the many practical and emotional labors of Milton's making of poetry as a blind man. I want my book to make it pretty much impossible for readers of Milton to either heroize his blindness or forget about it. I want my work to help readers of Milton take the full measure of this centuries-long-celebrated poetry as the labor and commitment of a blind poet. 

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