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Shakespeare in Swahililand

In Search of a Global Poet

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Description

An exploration of Shakespeare as a global poet

Shakespeare in Swahililand tells the unexpected literary history of Shakespeare’s influence in East Africa. Beginning with Victorian-era expeditions in which Shakespeare’s works were the sole reading material carried into the interior, the Bard has been a vital touchstone throughout the region. His plays were printed by liberated slaves as one of the first texts in Swahili, performed by Indian laborers while they built the Uganda railroad, used to argue for native rights, and translated by intellectuals, revolutionaries, and independence leaders.

Weaving together stories of explorers staggering through Africa’s interior, eccentrics living out their dreams on the savanna, decadent émigrés, Cold War intrigues, and even Che Guevara, Edward Wilson-Lee—a Cambridge lecturer raised in Kenya—tallies Shakespeare’s influence in Zanzibar, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Sudan. Traveling through these countries, he speaks with everyone from theater directors and academics to soldiers and aid workers, discovering not only cultural dimensions traceable to Shakespeare's plays but also an overwhelming insistence that these works provide a key insight into the region.

An astonishing work of empathy and historical vision, Shakespeare in Swahililand gets at the heart of what makes Shakespeare so universal and the role that his writings have played in thinking about what it means to be human.

From Publishers Weekly

May 23, 2016 – Wilson-Lee, a fellow in English at Cambridge University, spent his childhood in Kenya, and he intersperses his scholarly, rather esoteric study of Shakespeare in colonial East Africa with his own recollections and impressions in this complex, challenging work. As Wilson-Lee admits, his book is as much personal memoir and travelogue as inquiry into Shakespeare’s appeal across continents. He begins with explorers Richard Burton and Henry Morton Stanley, who brought Shakespeare to the region he calls Swahililand—today’s Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda—and fetishized Shakespeare as an antidote to “going native.” He then describes how, in 1867, the missionary Edward Steere translated storybook versions of Shakespeare’s plays into Swahili. Wilson-Lee draws a rich portrait of a region of Africa in which Shakespeare was familiar, adored, and widely performed with numerous local embellishments. Acrobatic in style and impressive in scholarship, his account arrives 400 years after Shakespeare’s death with a cross-cultural bang. It is not an easy book to digest. Wilson-Lee’s florid language, off-topic ramblings, travel adventures, and speculative flights widen his report but come at the cost of coherence and clarity.
Shakespeare in Swahililand
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  • $12.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Africa
  • Published: Sep 13, 2016
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Seller: Macmillan / Holtzbrinck Publishers, LLC
  • Print Length: 304 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.5 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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