Shakespeare in Swahililand: In Search of a Global Poet

Farrar. Sept. 2016. 304p. photos. maps. notes. index. ISBN 9780374262075. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780374714444. LIT
Wilson-Lee (English, Cambridge Univ.) rejects the view that Shakespeare represents British imperialism. Part travelog, part meditation on Shakespeare's role in East Africa ("Swahililand"), his book explores diverse ways in which Shakespeare has been adapted to situations and needs of countries in this region. Julius Kambarage Nyerere, first president of Tanzania, translated The Merchant of Venice as a vehicle to foster his anticapitalist agenda. George Mungai staged the play in Nairobi, Kenya, with Gikuyu businessmen. Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin produced Othello in Ethiopia because he thought it mirrored his country's condition. On South Africa's Robben Island in the late 1970s, Nelson Mandela and 33 other political prisoners marked their favorite passages in a volume of Shakespeare that has become known as the "Robben Island Bible." For the imprisoned men these lines expressed their political struggle. To mark South Sudanese independence from Sudan, actors from that fledgling country performed Cymbeline at the Globe in London in 2012 because the play recounts a successful rebellion against a dominant overlord.
VERDICT This readable account shows that Shakespeare is universal because his work can be read in all types of environments, reflecting eternal truths and current conditions worldwide.
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