The Millions

The Poetry of Subversion: On ‘Shakespeare in Swahililand’

On September 5, 1607, the British trade ship found itself off the coast of Sierra Leone, and Capt. and his Portuguese interpreter were entertained by the sailors staging what is supposedly the earliest recorded production of We are informed that the play was presented to keep the crew from “idleness and unlawful games, or sleepWhile the existence of the so-called “bad quartos” assures us that premiere was on the stage of the Globe in Southwark, England, the earliest specific dated mention of the play being staged was aboard the warped wooden planks of this worn vessel (though some have convincingly doubted the veracity of Keeling’s diary). If the accounts are to be believed, at the outset of what would be a three-year voyage to round the Cape of Good Hope in search of Indonesian spices, the seamen working on behalf of the East India Company performed the play “and in the afternoone… went altogether ashore, to see if… [they] could shoot an elephant.” Shakespeare was still alive when this production of the Danish play first premiered, his celebrated sonnets to be printed two years after that evening aboard the and a year before the ship would once again

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