Friday, May 20, 2011

The Shakespeare Mas

I read this yesterday, and felt it was important I shared the following passage:
I remember during one particularly dreary February in Toronto while I was studying for my Ph.D., locked in the library, I discovered the fascinating way in which the residents of Carriacou in the Grenadines take up Shakespeare. Every year, on Shrove Tuesday, young men, dressed in elaborate Pierrot-style costumes and animal masks topped with crowns of ficus roots, go from crossroads to crossroads, performing passages of Julius Caesar competitively. They call it "The Shakespeare Mas." The game goes like this. One team captain shouts out a challenge to a member of the other team to recite a passage. (For example: "Will you relate to me Mark Anthony's speech over Caesar's dead body?") If the competitor gets through the passage without error, he can ask his opponent to recite another passage.

The contest is watched over by the huge crowds who scrutinize the speeches for mistakes. Players encourage their teammates with shouts of "brave," "tell him," "go on," and "that's right." Anyone who fails to recite the passage correctly or who mixes up the words, earns a beating from his opponents. The whips used for these ceremonies are serious business, made from telephone wires. The government had to intervene in the 1950s when the Shakespeare Mas degenerated into a huge battle between the North and South island contingents, fuelled by women who supplied the combatants with boiling water and stones. Everyone, throughout the proceedings, is hammered on the local overproof rum, Iron Jack.
The Stella Shouting Contest (Icons passim) set the bar pretty high, but this has surely knocked it off its perch.

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