n Shakespeare in Southern Africa - Whose Shakespeare? Early black South Africanengagement with Shakespeare

Volume 24, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1011-582X



In the twentieth century Shakespeare came to impinge in a significant way on the lives and thought of a small but increasing number of black South Africans. From the beginning, as Laurence Wright has observed, Shakespeare was regarded in overwhelmingly positive terms by the few black people who came into contact with his plays. Shakespeare represented an aspect - and arguably a rather important aspect - of a literary and political culture to which they felt entitled but which, for long periods, their rulers would rather deny them. In the famous apartheid-era magazine of the 1950s, though, both black and white journalists drew upon Shakespeare to enrich their understanding and descriptions of township cultures, aware of the parallels between Shakespeare's Elizabethan world and what they now saw around them. On Robben Island in the 1980s a collected works of Shakespeare, disguised as the Koran, circulated amongst the political prisoners who chose, and marked, their favourite quotations. Shakespeare, it seems, could speak very directly and positively to the experience of black South Africans.

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