Shakespeare’s Impact on Pakistani Traditions & Culture

Shakespeare has influenced Pakistani culture in a magnitude of ways, such as the theatre, education, media and more.

Shakespeare's Influence on Pakistani Culture

Shakespeare continues to find relevance in Pakistan.

Shakespeare’s influence is remarkable in the sense that it still resonates with Pakistani audiences today.

His work has been adapted to the modern day in terms of aesthetic settings and yet still the original storylines and characters are kept intact.

In educational settings, these elements are explored and inhibit interesting topics as well as linguistic skillsets as subjects to learn.

Whilst set in the Elizabethan era, through theatre representations one can view and gain both insight into his time and see connections with the current.

His influence is multifaceted and can be seen to touch theatre, literature, education, media, entertainment and societal ideas.

Theatre and Performances

Shakespeare’s plays have been adapted and performed in Pakistan by various theatre groups and educational institutions.

These adaptations often incorporate local cultural elements, languages (such as Urdu), and social issues.

Thus, making Shakespeare’s centuries-old plays relevant to contemporary Pakistani audiences.

For instance, productions like Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet might be set in a Pakistani context.

Hence, exploring themes of love, honour, and family loyalty that resonate deeply within the culture.

Pakistani theatre has embraced Shakespeare, infusing his plays with local flavours, languages, and themes that resonate with the country’s audiences.

One of the most direct influences of Shakespeare on Pakistani theatre is the adaptation of his plays into Urdu, the national language.

These adaptations often retain the core themes of the original plays but contextualise them within Pakistani society.

For instance, Hamlet has been adapted into Urdu and performed in major cities like Lahore and Karachi.

The setting and characters were modified to reflect South Asian cultural norms and values.

Pakistani adaptations of Shakespeare often incorporate local cultural elements, including traditional music, dance, and attire, to bring the plays closer to the audience’s experience.

Productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream might feature music and dance sequences inspired by Pakistani folk traditions.

Cultural ideas

In the context of Pakistani society, numerous productions are interpreted whereby they reflect societal ideas.

Although Shakespeare’s work comes from a different society, namely Elizabethan, there is an element of patriarchy that resonates in Pakistan.

If we look at Ilaaj-e-Zid Dasteyaab Hai, which is a Pakistani adaptation of Taming of the Shrew, it expresses Pakistani culture.

Throughout the play, the writer combined elements of Shakespearean women and their roles with her interpretation of women in Pakistani society.

In a journal, the writer says: “There were many clues in it and I think it is about the Elizabethan educated woman, who is suddenly, through reading, able to be on the same plane with the men who are educated.

“And finds that she is outstripping a number of men and thinking for herself and so no longer the feudal arrange[d] marriage system applies to her.

“Shakespeare in all of his plays is an advocate of the intelligent woman.”

Moreover, there is a parallel with contemporary issues in Pakistan and Shakespeare’s original plays.

Using Shakespeare’s plays in a modern theatre setting allows the audience to gain an insight into the 16th century and find connections with their personal experiences.

Another performance in Urdu at the Globe Theatre in 2021 reflects Pakistani cultural ideas.

The play was about two sisters who got married in order of age.

There is a dive into the tradition of gaining parental approval synonymous with Pakistani culture.

Shakespeare’s plays have been adapted to represent the country’s social issues.

An adaptation of Othello had the same storyline but was amended to a different aesthetic setting.

Other themes that Shakespeare and Pakistan share are the concept of revenge in Pukhtun society, forced marriages, norms in family settings, and the roles of women within a patriarchal society.


Educational institutions in Pakistan frequently stage Shakespeare’s plays as part of their English literature and drama curricula.

These performances serve as both educational tools and opportunities for students to explore complex themes and emotions.

Schools and universities might stage plays like Romeo and Juliet.

Under discussion would be themes of love, conflict, and reconciliation, drawing parallels between the play’s events and contemporary societal issues.

Students are introduced to his plays and sonnets, learning about Elizabethan England.

Moreover, the historical and cultural backdrop of his works, and the universal themes he explores.

This educational focus underscores the importance of Shakespeare in developing critical thinking, analytical skills, and an appreciation for classic literature.

The complex language, rich vocabulary, and poetic devices found in Shakespeare’s works provide a challenging yet rewarding learning experience.

Thus, helping students improve their language skills.

Shakespeare’s works are a significant focus for literary criticism and academic research within Pakistani universities.

Scholars and students analyse his plays and sonnets from various perspectives, including postcolonial, feminist, and psychoanalytic critiques.

Media and Entertainment

Pakistani cinema and television have also been influenced by Shakespearean narratives, with filmmakers and scriptwriters drawing on his plots and characters.

While direct adaptations are less common, there are prevalent themes inspired by Shakespeare’s plays.

Such as the tragic consequences of feuds in Romeo and Juliet or the complex dynamics of power in Macbeth find echoes in Pakistani dramas and films.

These are often reinterpreted to reflect local societal issues.

Pakistani cinema has occasionally drawn inspiration from Shakespeare’s plays, adapting them to reflect local social issues, settings, and cultural contexts.

However, there might not be direct adaptations widely known in mainstream Lollywood (the Pakistani film industry).

The themes of Shakespeare’s tragedies and comedies resonate in films that explore themes of forbidden love, familial honour, and political intrigue, much like Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet.

Pakistani television dramas, known for their intricate storytelling and deep exploration of social and familial issues, often echo Shakespearean plots and character archetypes.

Dramas dealing with themes of betrayal, power struggles, and tragic love stories mirror the complexity and depth of Shakespearean narratives, even if not explicitly attributed to Shakespeare.

Thematic influences of Shakespeare’s plays—such as complex character dynamics, tragic conflicts, and moral dilemmas—are evident in many films.

Pakistani cinema explores themes similar to those in Shakespeare’s plays, such as forbidden love, family honour, and political intrigue.

For example, the movie Haider is an adaptation of Hamlet.

Pakistani television dramas, which play a significant role in the country’s cultural landscape, echo Shakespearean narratives and themes.

These dramas often deal with issues of power, betrayal, familial loyalty, and tragic love.

They are reminiscent of the plots and character arcs found in Shakespeare’s works.

The intricate storytelling and deep exploration of social issues in these dramas reflect the complexity and depth of Shakespearean narratives, even if not explicitly based on his plays.


Pakistani literature has seen adaptations of Shakespeare’s works into local languages, notably Urdu, which make these classic stories accessible to a wider audience.

Novels and short stories might draw on themes or plot elements from Shakespearean plays, reimagining them in a Pakistani context.

This not only pays homage to Shakespeare’s influence but also demonstrates the universality of his themes, such as love, power, betrayal, and tragedy.

Many Pakistani poets have been inspired by Shakespeare’s mastery of language and his profound exploration of human emotions and experiences.

References to Shakespearean motifs or direct quotes from his plays can be found in Urdu poetry.

Thus, serving as a testament to his enduring impact on the literary imagination.

Pakistani poets often grapple with themes such as love, betrayal, power, and existential questions.

All of which are prolifically explored in Shakespeare’s works.

Shakespeare’s mastery of language, his use of iambic pentameter, and his innovative poetic forms, such as the Shakespearean sonnet, have influenced poets globally.

Pakistani poets might draw on these techniques and adapt them to Urdu or English poetry.

Hence allowing them to convey complex emotions, utilising inspiration from Shakespeare’s techniques.

Some Pakistani poets may directly reference Shakespeare’s plays, characters, or famous lines in their work.

They would use these allusions to enrich their poetry and draw parallels between the themes of Shakespeare’s works and their observations about society, politics, and human nature.

The influence of Shakespeare on Pakistani culture can be seen through societal ideas, education, literature, media and theatre.

As modern playwrights adapt Shakepeare’s work, some elements such as the characterisation and storyline have been kept intact.

Shakespeare continues to find relevance in Pakistan, even though his plays were based in the Elizabethan era.

Kamilah is an experienced actress, radio presenter and qualified in Drama & Musical Theatre. She loves debating and her passions include arts, music, food poetry and singing.

Images courtesy of Dawn, The Friday Times, TutorRight and The Los Angeles Times.

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