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Teaching Shakespeare in Africa? | O, What Learning Is!

By August 11, 2015 No Comments

Chris Thurman, an Associate professor at University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, has written an essay exploring the inclusion of Shakespeare in African literature studies.

globe venus and adonis The Shakespeare Standard shakespeare news

Globe to Globe 2013 production of Venus & Adonis.

Thurman first examines how different African countries are from one another in their approaches to education and their economies. He resists the cliché question of whether Shakespeare “should be taught in Africa” because it conflates the entire continent into one educational space or mindset, rather than discussing each country’s attitudes and requirements. He compares the generalization to Asia, saying:

It’s impossible to speak accurately about ‘Shakespeare in Asia’ without accommodating the fact that his place in India – with its colonial history and linguistic environment – is a phenomenon that’s almost incomparable to Shakespeare in China or in Japan.

Thurman also mentions that while Zimbabwe and portions of South Africa have embraced Shakespeare as a common reference point, the playwright’s works have been “invoked by the apartheid state as an example of exclusively European” culture in other regions. In addition, he admits that student working to acquire English as a second language may not find Shakespeare’s early modern vocabulary and grammar especially helpful. Thurman, however, allows room for translation as a means to situate the plays within the spectrum of African literature studies.

As a final note, Thurman reminds his readers that they should think of teaching Shakespeare in Africa as drama rather than literature. He explains:

… the magic of performance should remain at the core of any assignation with Shakespeare.

Author Claire

Claire Kimball earned her Master of Letters degree in Shakespeare and Performance from Mary Baldwin College. She has served as a dramaturg for the American Shakespeare Center and Brave Spirits Theatre. Claire has presented her research to the Shakespeare Association of America, the Blackfriars Conference, the Southeastern Renaissance Conference, and the Comparative Drama Conference. Her essay on developing a rehearsal technique for early modern drama appeared in Renaissance Papers 2008.

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