Pursuing the Bard across the history, geography, and culture of East Africa.
Wilson-Lee (English/Sidney Sussex Coll.; co-editor: Translation and the Book Trade in Early Modern Europe, 2014), who spent his childhood in East Africa and teaches Shakespeare, takes readers on a trek through Zanzibar, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Sudan to discover Shakespeare’s legacy on those areas. He begins with famous African explorers for whom Shakespeare was indispensable; Sir Richard Francis Burton carried a volume of Shakespeare while crossing both bog and savanna when he set out to find the source of the Nile. Henry Morton Stanley “recounted burning his copy of Shakespeare to mollify tribesmen who viewed his books as witchcraft. Wilson-Lee chronicles his visit to Zanzibar, the site of Edward Steere’s 1867 printing of the Hadithi za Kiingereza, a collection of four Shakespearean tales and one of the earliest printed publications in Swahili; and Mombasa, where, at the end of the 19th century, tens of thousands of Indians arrived to build the railways, bringing their love of Shakespeare with them. The author also discusses his visit to Makerere University in Kampala, where teaching and performance of Shakespeare flourished during the 1940s; Dar es Salaam, where the first president of Tanzania translated Julius Caesar and The Merchant of Venice into Swahili; and Ethiopia, where Poet Laureate Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin won favor from Emperor Haile Selassie for his production of Othello. In Nairobi, on the grounds of the coffee farm described by Karen Blixen in Out of Africa, Wilson-Lee reminisces about his youth among the Gikuyu people there. At its core, Shakespeare in Swahililand is as much the author’s story as it is Shakespeare’s or Africa’s.
Wilson-Lee enjoyably melds memoir, history, and literary travelogue to reveal the surprising hold that Shakespeare continues to have on a culture remote from his own.