I had the privilege of seeing By me William Shakespeare on the preview night. Although there is no Africa mentioned in the exhibition, it is definitely worth a visit if you are in London near the Strand (King’s College London to be precise).
The basic requirement for me to write about something on this site is that it has to have a link with Africa, and there is no exception here. One of the first productions I saw at The Globe theatre was the Zulu rendition of Macbeth (Umabatha). What an experience – Old London, traditional Zulu dance with a modern audience and ticker tape telling us what was happening. Not long after, we saw Antony Sher, well known for his love of Shakespeare perform at the Globe too alhtough I can’t remember which production. We had seen him a few year’s before in South Africa at the Market Theatre doing a modernised version of Titus Andronicus. I don’t remember much about the production other than the armoured tanks and cars and his outburst at South Africans’ non-appreciation of the bard. I must admit, I really came to appreciate his acting when I saw ID, – a one-man production about the assassination of Hendrik Verwoerd, but that is taking us away from Shakespeare.
Shakespeare (1564-1616) was alive at the time the white man was discovering Southern Africa and deciding whether or not to settle there. The decision to set up victualling stations was finally made after his death with the Dutch under Jan van Riebeeck (video) forming a settlement at the Cape of Good Hope in 1652. The man has continued to be linked with South Africa appearing in correspondence such as that of Jan Smuts to NJ de Wet on 28 February 1901 when he quoted Hamlet v.ii.10 ‘There’s a divinity which shapes our ends, Rough-hew them how we will.’ This was in response to news of his wife being in a British concentration camp.
400 years on, Shakespeare is remembered fondly while there are mixed views over South Africa’s past… what they have in common is that the full story is not known and never will be. However, we have reminders of things past which we interpret based on our various life experiences – By me William Shakespeeare provides an opportunity for such reflection – seeing Shakespeare’s last Will and Testament, account books and various other bits of his life (note none of his plays on exhibition) gives a tiny insight to a different world – the forerunner of ours. How different to the life of those setting out to explore and inhabit new worlds 400 years ago. Today, the politics of Shakespeare’s plays, as demonstrated by Sher and others, continues to resonate in communities across the globe, in all languages: People are people
#BymeShakespeare @UKNatArchives #Africa