Excerpts from The Painted Devil: A Memoir of Insanity, by Arjun Raina
Shakespeare is a very important element in this story of madness. As you will read on you will see that most of the major characters of this story love the work of this English playwright even if some of them may also articulate a terrible rage against British Colonialism. It is for this that I would like to make a brief introduction of this famous man. William Shakespeare (26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world’s pre-eminent dramatist. His surviving works, including some collaboration, consist of about 38 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and several other poems. I also highlight the work of Shakespeare here not just for the love borne by the characters of this story but also because of a kind of shared sensibility between the transformative element of a theatrical performance and the transformative element within madness. A madman seems to be possessed by an unknown and mysterious spirit just like an actor is by the spirit of the character he plays. He enters a unique time and space that separates him from the public in the same way an actor is separated from his audience by his act of possession. The public is as fascinated by an act of madness as they would be by an actor of great charm and talent. It is for this quality that at times the act of madness possesses the same spirit as an act of the theater.
Bill—an Anglicized version of his Indian name Baljeet—enjoyed playing Monopoly, and while collecting rent from Shirley for visiting his hotel in Mayfair, would say, “Mrs. Gomez, did you know that Shakespeare was the head of Elizabeth’s secret service? He was only part time playwright. The rest of his hours were spent running her spy network around the world. It was the first steps taken by the British towards establishing their empire. Information, information, my dear Ms. Gomez,” Bill would whisper secretively, conspiratorially, “is the key to power and Shakespeare was the head of the British secret service. How else did he know so much about the world? Every part of our big wide world is represented in his plays. How was that possible for a man writing in the sixteenth century? And the plays and characters? How could Shakespeare write a Prospero and a Caliban? How could he write a story about this powerful white ruler and his black, deformed and ugly slave almost 200 years before the real relationship between the colonizer and the colonized? This was not just a story Ms. Gomez. This was the blueprint for British Colonization, prepared in the minutest detail by Elizabeth’s secret service, with Shakespeare as chief.” And with that Bill came to the climax of his conspiracy argument: “And, Ms. Gomez, not just was Shakespeare creating the Blueprint, he was also showing the way for British Colonialism to exercise brutal power. In one of his plays Shakespeare has Oberon the fairy king ask his wife Titania for a little Indian boy. Oberon says he wants the little Indian boy as a henchman but Titania knows better. She knew what Oberon was going to do with that little Indian boy. Rape him! Yes, Ms. Gomez, hundreds of years before the real relationship, the brutal equation had already been made clear. This is what the British Colonialists had to do to rule India, rape it! Oberon, Titania, Prospero, Caliban, these names were a part of the coded language of the secret service and Shakespeare the chief designer. The consequence is the murder, rape, madness and loss we have suffered.”
Arjun Raina is an Actor, Playwright and Kathakali performer of International repute having written and created original works of the theater that have been performed worldwide. (www.arjunraina.com). He is also a visiting Acting teacher at The National School of Drama, New Delhi, India. As India’s leading Voice and Accent coach he has written and published two books Speakeasy (Full Circle) and Speakright for a Call Center Job (Penguin India). He is also the author of a memoir, A Painted Devil (Partridge India). Arjun now lives and works in Australia. He is a practice based PhD Candidate at Flinders University, Adelaide, his research supported by a Flinders University Research Grant.