Since Shakespeare’s death over 400 years ago, his works have transcended the Globe for, well, the globe. His plays have been on the move since the 17th century when they first showed up abroad in the Netherlands, Denmark, and the Holy Roman Empire. The oldest Shakespeare Society is not to be found in England, but in Weimar, Germany. Just since 1960, there have been productions and publications of Hamlet in over 75 languages. Between 2005 and 2015 Romeo and Juliet was performed in 24 different countries, from Korea to South Africa to Israel and to Cuba. TV shows and movies either adapted from or inspired by Shakespeare are made every year, and they are not always the ones you might expect. Most of us can recognize West Side Story as an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, but what about the 2006 romantic comedy She’s the Man, starring Amanda Bynes, as an adaptation of Twelfth Night? Many of us have probably engaged with more of Shakespeare’s works in one way or another outside of our English classes rather than in them!
Sierra Leone, 1607: A 17th century report tells the story of a couple of East India Company ships that got lost off the coast of West Africa in 1607. It alleges that the sailors performed Hamlet while on the ship to pass the time until they found their way again. Should the report be true, it may mean that the first time one of Shakespeare’s plays were performed outside of England, it was done so off of the coast of Sierra Leone, while Shakespeare was still alive! However, the log that the report came from has not been seen since the 1800s, so we may never know for certain…
Jamaica, 1837: Issac Mendes Belisario, a 19th century lithograph artist, mentions that Richard III was his favorite play that the local Black artists had in their repertoire. He even made a print of these young actors, who were known as the Jamaican Koo Koo. Their costumes are as beautiful and fine as anything one would have been able to see on a stage back in England.
China, 1930: Though Shakespeare’s works have been circulating in china since the beginning of the century, it is not until 1930 that an accurate version of one of his plays is performed. The Shanghai Drama Assembly put on a production of The Merchant of Venice that was intellectually and philosophically fascinating to the audience.
"All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players;" - As You Like It
Shakespeare Around the Globe: Films and Books in the World Languages Collection - https://www.nypl.org/blog/2016/11/1/shakespeare-around-globe
Fun international facts about Shakespeare - https://www.britishcouncil.org/voices-magazine/fun-international-facts-about-shakespeare
Shakespeare around the world - https://www.shakespeare.org.uk/explore-shakespeare/blogs/shakespeare-around-world/
Shakespeare in Swahililand - https://www.folger.edu/shakespeare-unlimited/shakespeare-in-swahililand
Shakespeare in the Caribbean - https://www.folger.edu/shakespeare-unlimited/caribbean
China’s Love Affair with Shakespeare - https://www.barrons.com/articles/chinas-love-affair-with-shakespeare-51585137600
The British Museum