Shakespeare in the bush: Gender constructions and interpretations of Hamlet by the West African Tiv
This paper analyses how gender is constructed by the Tivs through their interpretation of Hamlet in comparison with how Shakespeare projects these characters. Hamlet, a tragic play by Shakespeare, presents a patriarchal system of governance with strong themes of betrayal, love, kinship, religion, and revenge. The lack of agency and autonomy of women, sexual objectification, and their plagues as victims of patriarchy portrayed in Hamlet is a vivid presentation of the fate of women in a patriarchal world. While these may seem universal, the contradictory interpretation of Hamlet by the Tivs in Nigeria demands an inquiry into how the people of Tiv construct and interpret gender in Shakespeare's Hamlet. This paper, therefore, compares the Tiv's culture and gender values with Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The paper argues that the Tiv’s construction of gender contradicts Western conceptions of gruesome patriarchal performance in Africa as presented in Western literature. The analysis revealed that the Tiv’s construction of gender gave more agency, power, and respect to women and differed significantly from how Shakespeare constructed gender in Hamlet. The masculinization of witchcraft and the demeaning of the male characters in Hamlet gave less honour and power to the male characters. Tiv’s interpretations and gender constructions present a rather diverging representation of women in Hamlet based on cultural negotiations and lived experiences; thereby, demonstrating how cultural dynamism shapes gender constructions.