Andrew Lycett

The Great Globe Itself

Shakespeare in Swahililand: Adventures with the Ever-Living Poet

By Edward Wilson-Lee

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.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • If you're at , starting tomorrow, there are free copies of Literary Review for festival attendees. Grab while stocks last!,
    • Weekend read 1: 'The fiery meteor that was Victor Grayson', as presented in David Clark's biography ,
    • We’re offering the chance to win a copy of I Am Not Your Negro. You can find all the information in our newsletter: ,
    • Stephen Bates reviews Richard Ingrams's biography of Ludovic Kennedy ,
    • RT : Pls enjoy my interview about the Bad Sex Awards w @Lit_Review-"My body was her gearstick" & "his bulbous salutation" ,
    • RT : Come for the insights about love from , stay for the readings from the 's Bad Sex Award winners! ,
    • Temporal, geographical and mental landscapes shift and interweave in Michèle Roberts’s The Walworth Beauty ,