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Worlds Elsewhere
Cover of Worlds Elsewhere
Worlds Elsewhere
Journeys Around Shakespeare's Globe
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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.

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.

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About the Author-
  • Andrew Dickson was raised in Yorkshire, and studied at Cambridge. He is currently an honorary fellow at Birkbeck, University of London, a former visiting fellow at the University of Warwick, and has contributed to The New Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare. Formerly an arts editor at the Guardian in London, he continues to write regularly for the paper and has also written for The New Yorker online and The New Statesman. He makes regular appearances on BBC radio and TV as a presenter and reviewer, and blogs at worldselsewhere.com.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    January 18, 2016
    In this exhausting literary tour guide, Dickson (The Rough Guide to Shakespeare) writes with breathless astonishment about the different cultures to which the Bard’s plays have travelled. He himself travels to India, South Africa, Japan, and Hong Kong, among other places, while also uncovering facts from the history of Shakespeare in translation. In the 19th century, for example, between 75 and 100 Shakespeare translations were produced in Parsi theater, beginning with Cymbeline. In South Africa, Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje, a renowned activist for racial equality, drew on King Lear and its themes of displacement and loss in his most well-known book, Native Life in South Africa. Meanwhile, an 1844 poem by Ferdinand Freiligrath begins by proclaiming that “Germany is Hamlet,” in that the country, like the melancholy Dane, couldn’t make up its mind about its future. Shakespeare’s plays have influenced many of the scripts produced in Bollywood and other Indian film industries, and the Chinese and British governments recently negotiated a deal to have Shakespeare’s complete works translated into Mandarin. Regrettably, Dickson comes to no startling conclusions—the book even lacks a concluding chapter, and his amazement at Shakespeare’s popularity throughout the world seems overstated. Agent: Sarah Chalfant, Wylie Agency.

  • Kirkus

    January 1, 2016
    Shakespeare, performed in the most unlikely places. In a melding of literary history and travelogue, journalist and BBC Radio presenter Dickson (The Rough Guide to Shakespeare, 2009, etc.) enthusiastically recounts his worldwide excursions in search of Shakespearean productions. As a playwright, Shakespeare "wrote bestride the world," more often setting his works in far-flung places rather than his native Britain. When he turned to England, he reached back into history. Part of his motivation may have been to avoid censorship; "playwrights of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras worked in continual fear of losing their livelihoods" if they offended those in power. But Dickson is more interested in how Shakespeare has been interpreted globally; to find out, he hopped around the world, watching performances and interviewing everyone who might enlighten him. Shakespeare has long been popular in Germany, he discovered, especially "at moments of political crisis or change," such as the rise of Nazism. In South Africa, the author viewed performances inflected with the nation's racial troubles. In Germany, he accompanied a woman who works on postwar political theater to a "self-consciously baffling" production of Coriolanus, "acted by five female performers wearing wigs to a soundtrack of corny eighties pop music." Although he asserts that "in translation...the plays had a habit of wriggling free" to suggest new meanings, Dickson is confounded by the difficulties of translating them into Chinese. "The challenges...were almost innumerable," a Chinese translator tells him, even with an apparently simple line such as, "To be or not to be." The author is amused by the notion that for decades, Chinese scholars put forth Marxist interpretations: "Shakespeare excellently depicts the real nature of money," Marx noted with satisfaction. Despite a tendency to digress--he reports on every thought, step, and sometimes irrelevant observation--Dickson proves himself a genial guide to Shakespeare's huge influence and legacy. A frequently illuminating investigation of Shakespeare around the world.

    COPYRIGHT(2016) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    February 15, 2016

    In this engaging and informative book, Dickson (honorary fellow, Birkbeck Ctr. for Contemporary Theatre, Univ. of London, UK; The Rough Guide to Shakespeare) explores the ways in which the works of William Shakespeare are performed and interpreted around the world. He focuses on five countries: Germany, the United States, South Africa, India, and China, each of which he visited and where he talked with scholars, actors, and translators. The result is an absorbing investigation into the varying encounters of the Bard worldwide. In each section Dickson blends a history of Shakespeare in a specific country with a look at current performance trends. His research and conversations returned riveting stories about Shakespeare in California during the Gold Rush, the enduring appeal of Hamlet in Germany, and the playwright's influence on Bollywood. In some places the author visits, the seemingly innocent act of translating his works into native languages is a complicated and politically charged process. The plays themselves bring different meanings to different cultures, from the tense performance of Othello in apartheid-era South Africa to the study of The Taming of the Shrew in contemporary China to explore modern ideas about gender roles. VERDICT Highly recommended for all Shakespeare lovers and also for readers interested in the role of arts and culture in this age of globalization. [See Prepub Alert, 10/26/15.]--Nicholas Graham, Univ. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

    Copyright 2016 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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Journeys Around Shakespeare's Globe
Andrew Dickson
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