Shakespeare in Swahililand: Adventures with the Ever-Living Poet.
By Edward Wilson-Lee. William Collins; 288 pages; £20. To be published in America by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux in September; $26.
ACCORDING to the diaries of Captain William Keeling of the East India Company, in 1607 “Hamlet” was performed on his ship Dragon off the coast of Sierra Leone. If the extract is genuine, it was the first performance of the play ever to be mentioned in writing. Edward Wilson-Lee of Cambridge University has pulled together this and many intriguing threads in his “story of Africa less often told”. “Shakespeare in Swahililand” is an attempt to understand whether the great playwright’s work speaks across cultural boundaries to a shared humanity. It primarily looks at “Swahililand”: Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and the parts of Congo, Malawi and Sudan, where the language is spoken, but cannot resist ranging farther afield. (Ethiopia’s emperor, Haile Selassie, said that after God, Shakespeare was “the greatest creator of mankind”, but his information ministry banned an Amharic-language staging of the regicidal “Makbez”.)