Brain Text Conversion and Cross-Cultural Integration: The Theatrical Adaptation and Performance of Shakespeare’s Comedies in China

Hui Su



Many of Shakespeare’s comedies have been adapted and staged as Chinese operas, including the Henan Yu Opera, Much Ado About Nothing, the Cantonese Opera, The Daughter of a Rich Family (based on The Merchant of Venice), and the Huangmei Opera, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This article1 intends to use the theory of “brain text” in the discourse system of Ethical Literary Criticism, established by Chinese scholars, to analyze the brain text conversion and cross-cultural integration of Shakespeare’s comedies in Chinese operas through adaptation and performance. Judging from the set design, plot development, ethical identity of characters, and stage presentation of the above-mentioned operas adapted from Shakespeare’s comedies, one may see that the adaptors’ brain text conversion shows distinct Chinese characteristics while retaining the basic elements of the original plays. As to the forms of narration and stage performance, the dialogues and narratives among characters in Shakespeare’s comedies have been transformed, via the adaptors’ brain text conversion, into a threefold combination of singing, reciting, and dancing, which not only maintains the strong lyrical sentiments of Shakespeare’s comedies, but also reflects the artistic tradition of Chinese operas that attaches importance to virtuality, freehand, and stylized performance. In terms of the intended implications and cultural connotations, these theatrical adaptations and performances showcase the humanistic ideal of love, which is the core theme of Shakespeare’s comedies, but at the same time highlight the characters’ complex psychological entanglement and ethical choices while facing the conflict between good and evil. It reflects the cultural tradition and collective unconsciousness of Chinese people that attaches great importance to ethics and morality, and reveals the aesthetic characteristics of Chinese operas that always takes characters’ inner conflict between emotion and reason quite seriously.


brain text, Chinese operas, cross-cultural integration, Shakespeare comedies

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Kritika Kultura
Department of English
School of Humanities
Ateneo de Manila University

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Jan Baetens
Faculty of Arts
Katholieke Universiteit te Leuven (Belgium)

Joel David
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Inha University (South Korea)

Michael Denning
Professor of American Studies and English
Department of English
Yale University (US)

Faculty of Cultural Sciences
Universitas Gadjah Mada (Indonesia)

Regenia Gagnier
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University of Exeter (UK)

Leela Gandhi
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Brown University (US)

Inderpal Grewal
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Yale University (US)

Peter Horn
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University of Cape Town (South Africa)
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University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa)

Anette Horn
Professor of German Studies
University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa)

David Lloyd
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University of California, Riverside (US)

Bienvenido Lumbera
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University of the Philippines

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Yale NUS College (Singapore)

Vicente L. Rafael
Giovanni and Amne Costigan Endowed Professor of History
University of Washington (US)

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Department of Linguistics
University of California, Davis (US)

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Department of Political Science
University of the Philippines

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Philippines Studies Center (US)

Neferti X.M. Tadiar
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Barnard College (US)
Director of the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race
Columbia University (US)

Antony Tatlow
Honorary Professor of Drama
Trinity College Dublin (Ireland)