Andrew Lycett

The Great Globe Itself

Shakespeare in Swahililand: Adventures with the Ever-Living Poet


William Collins 288pp £20 order from our bookshop

Visiting Luxor in Egypt, Edward Wilson-Lee was surprised to be hailed by a local man whose opening gambit was the first line of a soliloquy from Macbeth: ‘Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow’. Wilson-Lee responded with the next line from the play and the two strangers traded iambic pentameters from Shakespeare until they tailed off. Then, since the Egyptian had no further conversational English, the encounter ended and Wilson-Lee moved on.

The English language has certainly reached far-off, even surprising places, and Shakespeare has often been its standard-bearer. Having been brought up in East Africa, Wilson-Lee, a Cambridge academic, was emboldened by his Luxor experience to look into the history of Shakespeare’s reception in that part of the world. He knew that one of the first books printed in Swahili was Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare, which was published by the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa (UMCA) in the late 19th century as Hadithi za Kiingereza (‘English Tales’) on the island of Zanzibar in a translation probably by the local bishop, Edward Steere. And he wanted to know more.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'It is one of those nice linguistic ironies that English should have attempted to make sex respectable by clothing… ,
    • 'He was to my mind the father of the idea that journalism – yes, even journalism – can have a moral dimension to it… ,
    • RT : Feeling old, as exhumes a piece I wrote 37 years ago. But a joy to see Kathy O’S there too. Here’s why:… ,
    • 'Enough of his character remains just out of reach for Barnes to relish the challenge of imagining him.' Patrick M… ,
    • RT : I did a thing about the new Penguin Book Of Oulipo for this month’s Literary Review: @Lit_Review,
    • 'Moore’s work has been so influential that the former ministers who provided him with much of his information now r… ,
    • 'Although he travels through time and space to find the best produce, his choices, delightfully, are not obvious.'… ,