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‘…tinap ober we leck giant’: African Celebrations of Shakespeare

Martin Banham
Affiliation:
University of Leeds
Eldred Durosimi Jones
Affiliation:
University of Sierra Leone
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Summary

Shakespeare reached Africa perhaps as soon as or sooner than his work reached the most distant parts of his own country. In 1607 there are reports of performances of Hamlet and Richard II by British sailors off the coast of Sierra Leone. This hardly raised the floodgates of performance, but in 1800 the ‘African Theatre’ in Cape Town opened with a performance of Henry IV (which Part is not clear), and the amateur entertainments of colonial officers, the educational priorities of missionary and colonial government schools, plus the professional companies imported to entertain settler communities, ensured that the plays of Shakespeare—played in English—had a significant presence in many parts of the continent. But Shakespeare has also been performed and explored through the medium of translation and adaptation in a range of African languages and cultures. A recent ‘provisional’ bibliography by Jane Wilkinson offers Kiswahili Shakespeares from Kenya (Mabruk/Macbeth, 1970; Mlariba/The Merchant of Venice, 1971) and from Tanzania (Hadithi za Kiingereza/Tales from Shakespeare, 1867, new version 1940; Hadithi Ingereza/ stories from The Taming of the Shrew, The Merchant of Venice, King Lear and Timon of Athens, 1900; Mfanyi biashara wa Venice-Venisi/Lamb's version of The Merchant of Venice, 1939; Julius Nyerere's famous translation Julius Caezar, 1963, revised version Juliasi Kaizari, 1969, together with his Mabepari was Venisi/The Merchant of Venice, 1969; Makbeth by S. S. Mushi, 1968 and the same translator's Tufani/The Tempest, 1969). Elsewhere we can find numerous translations of Shakespeare into Amharic by the Ethiopian playwright Tsegaye Gebre-Medhin, including Othello, which reportedly ran in Addis Ababa for up to three years; the Congolese Sony Labou Tansi's adaptation of Romeo and Juliet (1990); productions of Macbeth at Sonar Senghor's Théâtre Daniel Sorano in Dakar (c.1965); from South Africa, Solomon Tashekisho Plaatje's Setswana language Diphoshophosho/The Comedy of Errors (1930) and Dintshontsho Tsa Bo-Juliuse Kesara/ Julius Caesar (c.1931?); and the extremely commercial version of Macbeth, Umabatha by Welcome Msomi (1972).

Kole Omotoso also reminds us of another fascinating connection between the continent of Africa and Shakespeare when he comments that the ancient Arab stories of Majnun and Layla ‘form the inspiration … of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet’. Omotoso is drawing attention to the Arabic plays Majnun Layla and Masra Kliyubatra (which translates literally as ‘The Fall of Cleopatra’), ‘written with the knowledge of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and Antony and Cleopatra’ by the distinguished Egyptian playwright Ahmad Shawqi (d. 1932).

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Chapter
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Translating Life
Studies in Transpositional Aesthetics
, pp. 121 - 136
Publisher: Liverpool University Press
Print publication year: 2000

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