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Dramatizing History: Reading Bakhtin’s Carnival in Kee Thuan Chye’s Plays

Erda Wati Bakar, Noraini Md Yusof, Ravichandran Vengadasamy


This paper explores the representations of Bakhtin’s notion of the Carnival in two revisioned historical plays of Kee Thuan Chye. As a firm believer of freedom of expression, Kee Thuan Chye employs his plays as a medium to express his criticism towards and resistance against authority. His plays We Could **** You, Mr. Birch (1994) and Swordfish, then the Concubine (2009) form the corpus of this study. This study investigates how Bakhtin’s notion of the Carnival is represented in the plays which are reconstructions of history. Specifically, the constructs of the Carnival like the reversal of social hierarchy, grotesque realism, ambivalent laughter as a form of mockery, and self-fashioning from New Historicism are used to frame the analyses of the plays. The discussion reveals that those who were in power, namely the rulers and aristocrats of the periods evident in the plays, were guilty of various follies and flaws. The constructs of the Carnival also illustrate how historical truths can be questionable and identities can be refashioned by disregarding boundaries, structures, and hierarchies.


Bakhtin; carnival; Kee Thuan Chye; new historicism; resistance; revisioning

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.13185/KK2020.03324