Ambassador of Senegal Professor Cheikh Ahmadou Dieng speaks at a celebration of Shakespeare’s New Place, the author’s family home until he died in 1616. The garden has been designed to commemorate The Bard and allow visitors to make their own personal connection with Shakespeare.
I am happy to be a part of a celebration of Shakespeare in this revered place, Stratford-Upon-Avon, on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of his death.
When I was asked to say ‘a few words’ at this ceremony, I was thrilled, but thought to myself that I must decline because there is nothing new to be said about, on or around Shakespeare (especially in Stratford-Upon-Avon). But a saying from my childhood changed my mind: “When somebody asks, don’t let them go empty-handed.” So, I humbly submit the following words to your kindness.
I don’t believe in an African vision of or approach to Shakespeare. Africa is a continent, not a country, with hundreds of languages, traditions, religions and political systems each with their own complex social structures.
The whole continent is marred at some stage of history by colonisation, superimposed ideologies and cultures, a generalisation that destroyed, not all, but a lot. A European Shakespeare does not exist. Nor does an African one.
The critics do not agree on meaning and perception. A famous paper by American cultural anthropologist Laura Bohannan, ‘Shakespeare in the Bush,’ is, if needs be, stark proof of the infinite possibilities offered to the reader, to the listener and to the onlooker of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The same could be said of all his other plays.
One conclusion we can come to from this is that Shakepeare does not need to be put in context. Every context makes its own Shakespeare, making The Bard transcend time and space and mores. He goes beyond the traditional paradigm (and here I mean by traditional ‘conservative’ in the elastic sense of the word), putting, in a myriad of settings:
– Levity and seriousness
– Tears and laughter
– Smiles and grins
– Reason and unreason
– Rationality and madness
– Fear and undaunted bravery
– Dreams broken and dreams come true
– Love and hate
– Ambiguity in broad daylight and blinding flashes in the dark
– The young and the old
– Men and women
But not only that, Shakespeare tackles:
– The ambivalence of things and beings when someone can say “I am not what I am”
– When the physical can turn ethereal and make a goddess fall in love with a donkey
– When a man can trade his kingdom for a horse and another needs to remind the sleeping world that he is “The King himself”
– When a “blackmoor” can kill and die out of and for love as criminal and victim.
We may agree that, after all, Shakespeare’s world is “a thing of nothing,” which is not a “nothing,” but a thing indeed, and possibly, “the thing itself.” That is, when the wheel comes “full circle” and we look, and we see William Shakespeare, unbegun, unfinished and…. eternal.