n Shakespeare in Southern Africa - The Africa that Shakespeare imagined ; or, notes for aspirant film makers

Volume 21, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1011-582X



The slippery presence of African themes in Shakespeare's plays is a function of the mythic but rapidly changing image of Africa in the England and Europe of his time. In 1888 Gardiner Greene Hubbard, president of the American National Geographic Society, introduced the centenary celebrations of the Society with an address in which he said : "America was explored ; Africa was circumnavigated" (3). He could hardly have summed up the contrast between three to four centuries of American and African discovery more cogently. A few years later, in 1897, C. Raymond Beazley made a similar point about Africa and the East : "Men crept round Africa in face of the Atlantic storms because of the golden East beyond" (3.11). This creeping round and haunting of Africa's shores had, as far as the English were concerned, only developed during Shakespeare's lifetime. Thomas Wyndham, William Hawkins, John Lock and others performed the first English voyages to West Africa (and began the English slave trade) in the decades just before Shakespeare's birth. The first English visit to the Cape of Good Hope was apparently that of Thomas Stevens in 1579 (a year before Drake's visit), but regular English visits to the Cape only began right at the end of the sixteenth century. How much of all this did Shakespeare know about, and is it possible to detect traces of such familiarity in his plays? A tall order, but I think there are some clues.

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