Worlds Elsewhere: Journeys Around Shakespeare's Globe

Worlds Elsewhere: Journeys Around Shakespeare's Globe

by Andrew Dickson


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Worlds Elsewhere: Journeys Around Shakespeare's Globe by Andrew Dickson

A book about how Shakespeare became fascinated with the world, and how the world became fascinated with Shakespeare

Ranging ambitiously across four continents and four hundred years, Worlds Elsewhere is an eye-opening account of how Shakespeare went global. Seizing inspiration from the playwright’s own fascination with travel, foreignness, and distant worlds—worlds Shakespeare never himself explored—Andrew Dickson takes us on an extraordinary journey: from Hamlet performed by English actors tramping through the Baltic states in the early sixteen hundreds to the skyscrapers of twenty-first-century Beijing and Shanghai, where “Shashibiya” survived Mao’s Cultural Revolution to become a revered Chinese author.

En route, Dickson traces Nazi Germany’s strange love affair with, and attempted nationalization of, the Bard, and delves deep into the history of Bollywood, where Shakespearean stories helped give birth to Indian cinema. In Johannesburg, we discover how Shakespeare was enlisted in the fight to end apartheid. In nineteenth-century California, we encounter shoestring performances of Richard III and Othello in the dusty mining camps and saloon bars of the Gold Rush.

No other writer’s work has been performed, translated, adapted, and altered in such a remarkable variety of cultures and languages. Both a cultural history and a literary travelogue, Worlds Elsewhere is an attempt to understand how Shakespeare has become the international phenomenon he is—and why.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780805097344
Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 04/05/2016
Pages: 512
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.70(d)

About the Author

Andrew Dickson is the author of The Rough Guide to Shakespeare and a contributor to The New Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare. A former arts editor at the Guardian, he writes regularly for the paper and appears as a presenter for the BBC and elsewhere.

Read an Excerpt

Worlds Elsewhere

Journeys Around Shakespeare's Globe

By Andrew Dickson

Henry Holt and Company

Copyright © 2015 Andrew Dickson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8050-9735-1



Gdansk · Weimar · Munich · Berlin

In the months leading up to 23 April 1864, the 300th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth, plans in Great Britain are – as is traditional on such occasions – in almost total disarray.

In Stratford-upon-Avon, a Tercentenary Committee is industriously attempting to make the Warwickshire town where Shakespeare was born and bred the focus of worldwide celebrations. Led by the local brewing magnate Edward Fordham Flower, the committee declares that 'the eyes of every lover of the Poet will ... be turned mentally to Stratford-upon-Avon ... beyond all question the locality in which the auspicious day should be specially observed'. A draft programme centres on a week-long extravaganza of public events; money will go to two worthy causes. One is King Edward VI school, usually assumed to be Shakespeare's alma mater. The other is a project to erect an 'enduring monument' to the poet in the town.

Unfortunately, Stratford – and its monument – have competition. Down in London, a journalist called W. Hepworth Dixon has spotted an opportunity for that enterprise most beloved of newspaper editors: a moral campaign. It is obvious to anyone who cares to look that a one-horse Midlands town, for all that it may have spawned Shakespeare, is unable to do justice to his supernal genius. It should surely be in the nation's capital – the great world city where this world-beating dramatist forged his career – that the National Poet be celebrated on the tercentenary of his birth.

Only one solution: another committee. Dixon publishes a call to arms in the magazine he edits, the Athenaeum, announcing the formation of a National Shakespeare Committee to marshal the festivities. 'All parties would consent to a statue of Shakespeare being the first thing secured,' Dixon writes – this rival statue to be raised, naturally, in London. 'We do not think,' Dixon adds airily, 'that there would be any great difficulty in either amalgamating the various committees or in harmonising the several projects.'

There are in fact a great many difficulties, and harmony is the last thought on anyone's mind. Determined not to lose face, the Stratford committee announces an impressive line-up including 'Dramatic Readings and Representations, — a déjeûner — A Grand Miscellaneous Concert, — An Oratorio, — Excursions to various places in the neighbourhood in connexion with the Poet's life and history, — A Banquet and Grand Fancy Ball'. In retaliation, Dixon recruits an expeditionary force of dukes, earls and viscounts. Stratford insists that it has numerous backers of its own, and anyway – the town of Shakespeare's birth and death currently lacking a theatre big enough to perform his plays – it will be erecting a tercentenary pavilion by the banks of the Avon seating 5,000 spectators, an engineering marvel of the age.

The arms race escalates. Dixon makes it known that he is masterminding a Shakespeare season across the West End. Flower instructs agents to scout for London actors who will decamp to Stratford.

The press is gorged with material. The mocking verbs 'to tercentenerate' and 'tercentenerise' become current. Every scintilla of gossip is reported with glee. Dixon suffers a public-relations catastrophe when he snubs the novelist William Makepeace Thackeray, who makes the insult incurable by dying. Flower falters when fundraising efforts fail to keep pace with mounting expenses (the pavilion will end up costing £4,500, over four times the projected amount – perhaps £400,000 in today's money).

In January 1864, a coup is mounted to topple Dixon, but he fights back. In the recriminations that follow, The Times wearily announces that 'our sympathy, in so far as we have any sympathy with the movement, goes to Stratford'.

By then, however, Stratford is at crisis point. With quite remarkable cack-handedness, Flower's agents have managed to promise the highpoint of the festival, a commemorative production of Hamlet, to two actors simultaneously – Samuel Phelps, the most esteemed English thespian of the age, and the dashing Frenchman Charles Fechter. No one appears to have noticed they are deadliest rivals. Grievously affronted, Phelps pulls out. Fechter dithers, then, sensing that a patriotic British public is not on his side, turns tail. In late March, with just a month to go, it looks as though Stratford will have no Shakespearian drama to put inside its luxuriously appointed Shakespearian pavilion.

In everyone's minds is one of the most mortifying episodes in British literary history. Seventeen years earlier, in 1847, Shakespeare's birthplace on Henley Street was on the point – it was reported – of being sold to the American showman P. T. Barnum and shipped brick by brick to New York. Only after a last-minute campaign led by Charles Dickens and the actor William Charles Macready was national pride salved and the Birthplace saved.

With April 1864 just weeks away, history looks set for a farcical repeat. Punch publishes a 'tercentenary number' poking sarcastic fun at everything from the Athenaeum's priapic Bardolatry to the saga of the rival memorials. As the big day approaches, an editorial in a London magazine plunges in the knife. '[Shakespeare] has been commentated, expurgated, purified, nullified, annotated, edited, improved, disproved, approved ... illustrated, painted, drawn and quartered' out of existence, it argues. Why should anyone bother to tercentenarise him too?

When Saturday 23 April finally dawned on the English Midlands, things were not as calamitous as many had feared. The one thing the Stratford Tercentenary Committee had not been responsible for, the weather, turned out beautifully. Crowds came in their thousands, attracted by free fireworks and an exhibition boasting a remarkable twenty-eight different portraits of Shakespeare. Even the pavilion predicament was resolved: at the last minute (and even more expense) performances of Twelfth Night and Romeo and Juliet were procured from the West End. The grand opening banquet – each dish themed after a play – was accounted a success.

Still, a bitter taste lingered, not least when an anonymous handbill appeared on Stratford's streets pouring scorn on Flower's efforts. Headlined SHAKESPEARE, THE POET OF THE PEOPLE, it criticised the 'profitless swells' clogging up the town and called for a festival less dismissive of Stratford's working-class inhabitants. When the journalist Andrew Halliday paid a visit for Dickens's magazine All the Year Round, he, too, scoffed at what he found, accounting the fireworks 'per se, not so very bad', but regretting the fact that the Birthplace ('a general tea-garden aspect') was guarded by 'two huge Warwickshire policemen in full uniform, whose presence was suggestive of a murder, or a robbery'.

Other British cities did the National Poet proud. Liverpool mounted a ball for 1,400 dressed in Shakespearian costume. Unimpressed by the fetish for statues and likenesses, Birmingham's Shakespeare Club outclassed its Midlands neighbour by laying the foundations for a monument much more fitting: a Shakespeare Library 'open freely to all Shakespeare students, from wherever they may come'. (It is still very much going, having reopened inside the new Library of Birmingham in September 2013.)

In London, however, the big day went wrong almost from the off. Dixon's committee produced a so-called official programme, but it was pointed out that nearly everything in it – from revivals of The Merchant of Venice at Sadler's Wells to Henry VI Part II at the Surrey Theatre in Lambeth – had been organised by other people. More confusion was sown when the Crystal Palace, the vast exhibition space in south London, announced it would hold its own tercentenary celebrations, featuring Shakespeare himself (the actor Arthur Young with bald wig and heavy make-up) rising from the dead from a replica of the Birthplace.

But the nadir came on Primrose Hill in north London, where yet another subcommittee, the Working Men's Shakespeare Committee – hurriedly formed to ensure something actually happened – had arranged to plant an oak sapling in Shakespeare's memory on the anniversary day itself. The planting went to plan, but was swiftly overtaken by a left-wing protest in support of General Garibaldi, then making headlines in Britain. When crowds began to drift on to the hill from the working-class neighbourhood of Chalk Farm, the authorities panicked. Only police intervention prevented a riot.

In a scathing account, The Times branded Dixon's event 'ridiculous' and 'pathetic'. 'Notwithstanding this 300th anniversary,' it concluded frostily, 'Shakespeare is not a whit more admired this year than he was last year, or will be next year.' There wasn't even a Shakespeare monument to show for it.

One afternoon, I spent an agreeable few hours in the archives of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford, sifting through the wreckage: newspapers, architectural plans, photographs, printed post-mortems.

The thing that caught me had not often been remarked upon by theatre historians: the tercentenary was an international incident. Britain's grief was all the more humiliating because it was by no means private. In 1864, the world was watching, in fact eager to join in.

In France, Victor Hugo (having turned down an invitation to visit London by the hapless W. Hepworth Dixon), published a sprawling encomium of the poet. Originally intended as an introduction to his son François-Victor's translation of the complete works, it grew into a 300-page meditation on the nature of literary genius. Hugo's 'Comité Shakespeare', formed with George Sand, Alexandre Dumas, Hector Berlioz and nearly every leading writer of the day, achieved a succès de scandale when Baudelaire denounced it in Le Figaro.

In Prague, meanwhile, the leading lights of Czech culture mounted a celebration that culminated in a performance of Berlioz's choral symphony Roméo et Juliette and a pageant of Shakespearian characters two hundred strong, to music specially composed by Bedrich Smetana. Ottawa went in for speechifying and an address. Even the Americans, despite being in the midst of a savage Civil War, put on a decent show: Boston held a ceremony, and after a spirited fundraising effort New York City got what London and Stratford so craved (and would not each get for many years) – a public statue of Shakespeare, the cornerstone of which was laid in Central Park in 1864.

Yet, in the archives that day, I was caught by the prominence of another nation entirely. The Morning Advertiser led its report from Stratford with the arrival at the birthday banquet of a 'special deputation from Frankfurt, to present an address on behalf of Germany'. The renowned philologist Professor Max Müller began by stating that 'when honour was to be done to the memory of Shakespeare, Germany could not be absent', and continued in even more rapturous vein:

Next to Goethe and Schiller there is no poet so truly loved by us, so thoroughly our own, as your Shakespeare. He is no stranger with us, no mere classic, like Homer, or Virgil, or Dante, or Corneille, whom we read and admire and then forget. He has become one of ourselves, holding his own place in the history of our literature, applauded in our theatres, read in our cottages, studied, known, loved, 'as far as sounds the German tongue'.

'[We] will always have in Shakespeare a common teacher,' Müller added, 'a common benefactor, a common friend.'

Müller's compatriot Professor Leitner picked up the baton, affirming the living influence of Shakespeare on German literature. Interestingly, he went further: 'After a century of revolutions in which [Shakespeare's works] were almost forgotten in his own country,' he continued, they 'restored to the mother's strand of Germania old Teutonic strength ... finish[ing] their conquest by creating that new manhood which forced its way through storms and oppression into light.'

Despite the strangulations of his English, Leitner's message was unambiguous. This was a reminder to his Stratford audience that for all the decades – some would say centuries – Shakespeare had been neglected in Britain, in Germany his influence had only intensified. Speaking in response, the Earl of Carlisle acknowledged that '[Germany's] boast is that she reveres, understands and fathers [Shakespeare] even more throughly than ourselves'.

Leitner was only saying – rather politely – what many of his countrymen held as an article of passionate faith. While London and Stratford had been fiddling and fudging and failing, caught in politicking and money worries and rampant committee-itis, in the German-speaking Sprachraum the tercentenary had been nothing less than a phenomenon. Cities from Frankfurt in the west to Königsberg in the east hosted lectures, panegyrics, odes, recitations, tableaux vivants. In Düsseldorf, the Goddess of Immortality entered into dialogue with Shakespearian characters before crowning with laurels an image of their creator. In Weimar, a pioneering Königsdramen cycle of the English history plays – rarely revived in England itself – was mounted under the patronage of Grand Duchess Sophie of Saxony-Weimar-Eisenach. At the Burgtheater in Vienna, an epic pageant on Shakespeare's life ended with Queen Elizabeth I crowning the poet's bust with a wreath, as angelic spirits frolicked joyously in the air. While Stratford couldn't even get Hamlet into production, over ninety performances of Shakespeare plays were mounted across the German states during 1864 – even more impressive when one considers that Germany would not become a unified nation for another seven years.

Reviewing the festivities, an industrialist from Dessau, Wilhelm Oechelhäuser, stated brusquely what Leitner had only hinted: the country that truly honoured Shakespeare was no longer the one in which he was born. Denouncing the British tercentenary as a 'complete fiasco', he wrote that 'even the smallest German university towns honoured the genius with more dignity than did that pompously staged and miserably concluded central festival in Stratford'. 'The English Shakespeare cult' was decayed, he sneered; Germany was now the only country that could do the poet's memory justice.

A new phrase, unser Shakespeare, had entered the language. Its translation is simple: 'our Shakespeare'.

ONE HUNDRED AND FORTY-NINE YEARS after the tercentenary, almost to the day, I was scrambling up a hill in northern Poland, trying to see if unser Shakespeare went back any further than 1864. It was here, apparently, that Germany had first made Shakespeare's acquaintance.

I had first come to Poland in 2011 to report for the Guardian on the building of a new Shakespeare theatre in Gdansk. When I'd arrived it was to little more than a field of splintered rubble and icy mud. The scheme had been on the cards at least since the millennium, but the contractors had got little further than clearing the site and digging a medium-sized ditch.

Professor Jerzy Limon of Gdansk University, whose brainchild this new 'Teatr Szekspirowski' was, did his best to entertain the visiting English journalist, crunching around the wind-whipped site in order to show me where the main stage would be – right here! – and where the audience would sit – over there! Still, it was obvious that the projected opening date, in time for Gdansk's annual Shakespeare festival in August 2013, was beyond even his considerable powers of invention.

Searching for a story to put in the paper, I realised – far later than I admitted to my editors back in London – that this was not the first Shakespearian theatre to have been built in the city. I was dimly aware that English actors had toured across mainland Europe in the early years of the seventeenth century, but what I hadn't known was that they were said to have constructed a playhouse in Gdansk some time between 1600 and 1612. This was squarely within Shakespeare's own lifetime, a period covering nearly all his mature plays – Hamlet, roughly, up to his final works for the stage, Henry VIII (1613) and The Two Noble Kinsmen (1613–14). The very site was under our feet, Limon assured me; though long since demolished, evidence of the building had been found when they excavated foundations for the new theatre. It seemed to check out. I wrote the article.

Even before my visit was over, I knew I would have to come back: the idea of English actors tramping through the Baltic states, living on the hoof, performing at fairs and royal courts, taking Elizabethan drama out into the world, was too compelling to ignore. If Shakespeare's plays really had been performed in Gdansk, it would be the first time they had definitively been staged outside England, and within the playwright's lifetime to boot. Forget enticing legends about Hamlet and Richard II in Sierra Leone: here, surely, was where Shakespeare began to go global.

What I had discovered in the interim about the German adoration for an English playwright had only sharpened my eagerness to return. While 1864 may have been the year the concept of unser Shakespeare gained wide circulation, it was here in the far north, two and a half centuries earlier, that Germany's relationship with Shakespeare first took root. Though this had been Polish territory since the defeat of the Nazis, Gdansk /Danzig had always had a Germanic identity – the city was German-speaking and for hundreds of years had been as intimate with powerful German principalities as it was with Warsaw. If my story began anywhere, I suspected it was here.

Eighteen months after my first visit, I got in touch with Limon and asked if I could return to Gdansk and see where his theatre was up to. He enthusiastically agreed.


Excerpted from Worlds Elsewhere by Andrew Dickson. Copyright © 2015 Andrew Dickson. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Prologue xi

Hamletomanie 1



Munich Berlin

Buried Richards 91

Staunton, Virginia

Washington DC

San Francisco

Nevada City, California

San Diego

Gurudeva 175




New Delhi

William Shake-the-Sword 259




Cape Town

Strange Tales 347




Hong Kong

Select bibliography 439

Acknowledgements 455

Index 459

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