Performing Shakespeare in Colonial Taiwan: Early Japanese Settlers and the Bounds of Theatrical Imperialism, 1895-1916

Yi-Hsin Hsu


Built on archival research in Japan and Taiwan, this article constructs a comprehensive history of Shakespeare performances in colonial Taiwan. Unearthing underexplored and previously unknown production records of Shakespeare performances by Japanese settlers as well as travelling troupes, this article provides contextual readings of surviving theatre reviews and investigates their cultural and theatrical significance. It adds to current literature by presenting three findings: first, the scope and quantity of Shakespeare performances extend beyond received knowledge. Previously unknown records of The Merchant of Venice, The Merry Wives of Windsor, New Hamlet, King Lear, and a proposed performance of Romeo and Juliet will be discussed alongside details of the known records of Hamlet and Othello. Second, Shakespeare performances were sites of artistic contacts and competition, where travelling troupes, local theatres, Japanese and Taiwanese audiences interacted together and contributed to a vibrant theatrical ecology. Third, this article foregrounds the bounds and limitations of theatrical imperialism. While theatre productions were utilised as tools of empire and supported by Japan’s administrative apparatus to instruct and assimilate the colonised, in their actual reception they were viewed as popular entertainments which, as objects of criticism, must entertain and delight censorious audiences. The author, Yi-Hsin Hsu, is Associate Professor in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at the National Taiwan University.

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Popular Entertainment Studies ISSN 1837-9303