Shakespeare in Swahililand: Adventures with the Ever-Living Poet

By Edward Wilson-Lee

Investigating the literary culture of the early interaction between European countries and East Africa, Edward Wilson-Lee uncovers an extraordinary sequence of stories in which explorers, railway labourers, decadent émigrés, freedom fighters, and pioneering African leaders made Shakespeare their own in this alien land.

Exploring the unexpected history of Shakespeare’s global legacy, Shakespeare in Swahililand is a breathtaking combination of travel, history, biography and satire. It traces Shakespeare’s influence in Zanzibar, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, Sudan and Kenya – where Cambridge lecturer Edward Wilson-Lee was raised.

From Victorian expeditions in which the Bard’s works were the sole reading material, Wilson-Lee shows how Shakespeare’s works have been a vital touchstone throughout the region. The Plays were printed by liberated slaves as one of the first texts in Swahili, performed by Indian labourers while they built the Uganda Railway, used to argue for native rights, and translated by intellectuals, revolutionaries and independence leaders. Revealing how great works can provide a key insight into modern history, these stories investigate the astonishing poignancy of beauty out of place.

Format: Paperback
Release Date: 09 Mar 2017
Pages: 320
ISBN: 978-0-00-814621-4
Having grown up in Kenya and Switzerland, with periods living in Mexico, Zimbabwe, and the United States, Edward Wilson-Lee now lives in Cambridge, where he teaches Renaissance literature and is a Fellow of Sidney Sussex College. His research focuses on books, libraries, and travel, which during this project has involved journeys to and through Spain, Italy, India, and the Caribbean. He is the author of Shakespeare in Swahililand and The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books, which won the Pen Hessell-Tiltman Prize.

”'Part travel book, part history of Swahili-speaking African nations, part exploration of Shakespeare’s power to touch the human spirit, this is a remarkable account of how his work is woven into the fabric of African life” - Daily Mail

”'Amid the dozens of books flooding this anniversary season this … is one of the more interesting … Wilson-Lee’s account of his East African Shakespeare-hunt is vivid and full of insights” - Independent

”'It has successfully told a lesser-known story of Africa, and it is a story worth knowing” - Economist

”'Part memoir, part weird and wonderful history of Shakespeare in East Africa” - Telegraph

”'A perceptive and entertaining guide to the Bard’s reception in Swahililand” - Literary Review

”'I thought nothing could surprise me about the impact of England’s greatest cultural figure, but this fascinating, readable book about his influence in East Africa certainly did” - The Lady

”'Wilson-Lee goes in search of Shakespeare in Africa and finds him entwined in every twist and turn of the drama of colonization and decolonization of the continent from the 17th century to the present. The result is a masterly literary detective adventure” - Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o