Shakespeare in the
This story, by Laura
Bohannan, is a perfect example that literature is open to many interpretations.
To many people in our culture the play of Hamlet is well-known, and
accepted without many difficulties. However, in the Tiv culture there are
several errors in the plot that the chiefs point out.
While visiting the Tiv
in Africa, Laura is asked to tell the elders a story from our culture. It
is at this point that she finds her chance to tell about Hamlet because
she thinks it is one of the most important pieces of literature in our society.
Laura thinks that the story will be fairly easy to explain because of it is
generally understood by everyone. Also, she thinks that the elders will
understand because before starting to tell the story, Laura thought that every
culture would understand the plot of the story in the same way our society does.
"I was quiet sure that Hamlet had only one possible interpretation,
and that one universally obvious” (Bohannan 24). Once the story started,
it was clear that the Tiv had a completely different way of thinking, and
The first error that
the elders found in the story was the word usage that was used to translate
non-existent word in the Tiv vocabulary. The word "chief" was
used in place of king or ruler, which may not seem to make a difference to our
understanding. However, to a culture that relies heavily on chiefs, the
story is greatly changed because the word “chief” brings about many
responsibilities. Trying to explain that the “chief” was dead, brought
about a lot of confusion. To the Tiv people there is no such thing as a ghost,
which means as soon as they found that King Hamlet came back to visit Hamlet,
the Tiv thought it to be an omen sent by a witch. The Tiv rely on
interpretations to make sense of stories, and the only way for them to interpret
Hamlet is to relate its meanings to their culture.
Throughout the story
telling by Bohannan it is clear that each society has their own interpretations
of stories no matter what culture the story’s come from. When Bohannan
finish’s telling her interpretation of Hamlet the elders tell her that
it was a good story, but there are errors that were over looked. This is
the ending scene, where Hamlet and Laertes get into a machete fight, and Hamlet
is supposed to die of poisoning. Most people over look the fact that it
was who ever won the fight that drank from the poison cup. This meant that
it wasn’t only Hamlet that would die if he won the fight, if Laertes won then
he too would drink from the cup.
From this story we find
that elders in every society feel that they know what is best. Bohannan
was told several times to check with her elders at home to get the real meaning
of Hamlet. Elders are often listened to because they are thought to
have much experience in the ways of life. Laura came into the Tiv culture
thinking that everyone thought alike, but really she found that everything is
open to interpretation and experience. One person is listened to if we
believe that their experience is better than our own.