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Worlds Elsewhere: Journeys Around Shakespeare's Globe

by Andrew Dickson

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7819271,129 (3.88)22
"There are 83 copies of the First Folio in a vault beneath Capitol Hill, the world's largest collection. Well over 150 Indian movies are based on Shakespeare's plays-more than in any other nation. If current trends continue, there will soon be more high-school students reading The Merchant of Venice in Mandarin Chinese than in early-modern English. Why did this happen-and how? Ranging ambitiously across four continents and 400 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, Dickson takes us on an extraordinary journey-from Hamlet performed by English actors tramping through Poland in the early 1600s to twenty-first century Shanghai, where Shashibiya survived Mao's Cultural Revolution to become an honored Chinese author. En route we visit Nazi Germany, where Shakespeare became an unlikely favorite, and delve into the history of Bollywood, where Shakespearian stories helped give birth to Indian cinema. In Johannesburg, we discover how Shakespeare was enlisted into the fight to end apartheid. In California, we encounter him as the most popular playwright of the American frontier. Both a cultural history and a literary travelogue, the first of its kind, Worlds Elsewhere explores how Shakespeare became the world's writer, and how his works have changed beyond all recognition during the journey"--… (more)
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» See also 22 mentions

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I love Shakespeare, and I love that his works are being embraced all over the world (and possibly among Klingons). So the idea of this book is a wonderful one. After a few accounts, though, I got a bit bored. Perhaps it could have been trimmed down a bit? ( )
  PensiveCat | Sep 25, 2018 |
This is a fun book for the Shakespeare fan. In the end, I think any grand conclusions about Shakespeare's "universality" elude the author, but his pursuit of the Bard through the continents makes for fascinating reading. Germany's "unser Shakespeare" was scary, India's Bollywood versions were vivid and appealingly exuberant; I had a lot of affinity for South Africa's Shakespeare-as-resistance (and felt ashamed I knew nothing of Sol T. Plaatje), and whatever the opposite of "affinity" is for the uncertain fate of Shakespeare-as-state-propoganda in Maoist China.

But honestly, the strength of the book was not in its history lessons or its travel dialogue (as a traveler, Dickson seems constantly exhausted by the vagaries of train time tables and taxi cabs in traffic) -- it was his account of the myriad of performances he sees, the (seemingly hundreds) of film adaptations he watches. Those are amazing -- school competitions, pirated dvds of old Merchant Ivory productions, outdoor shows in Wild West period dress somewhere in the Sierra Nevada mountains, high culture adaptations into Chinese operatic form. The book is worth reading just for those.
1 vote southernbooklady | Jun 13, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Summary: Shakespeare is of course well-beloved in his native England, but his work is read and loved around the globe. In this book, Dickson looks at how Shakespeare's plays and his influence have spread in the four centuries since his death, and how each country and each era that encounters his works adapts them to fit its own cultural ends. This book is organized into five geographical sections: Europe (focusing mostly on Poland and Germany), America, India, South Africa, and China.

Review: I really wanted to love this book. I love Shakespeare, and I love travelogue-style journalistic non-fiction, so the premise of an author traveling around the world to look at how Shakespeare has been seen and adapted and used by different cultures was a fantastically compelling promise. However, this book was a huge struggle for me, and I ultimately didn't finish it -- I made it through the Germany section, and read a little bit of the America section before finally admitting defeat after many months of this sitting mostly untouched on my nightstand. While the premise is really good, I had a hard time with Dickson's writing. It's incredibly dense (not helped by the tiny typeface), with long wordy sentences that often contained so many asides and parentheticals that it was easy to lose track of what the sentence was actually about. The sections themselves were similarly long and dense, and not particularly well-organized, lacking chapter breaks or any other kinds of signposts about where we were in history or in the story. My favorite kinds of non-fiction are typically narrative non-fiction, and this didn't have enough of a narrative thread to hold all of the (incredibly detailed and obviously well-researched) individual pieces together, leaving it to feel kind of dry. And ultimately, while there is clearly a lot of information packed into this book, it didn't do a particularly great job at conveying that information in a memorable way to a non-academic reader (at least not this reader), which is truly a shame. 2 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: As I said, the premise is fantastic, and there are certainly likely to be people out there who get along with Dickson's writing style better than I did, so if you're a fan of Shakespeare and the various incarnations of his work, it's probably worth a shot. ( )
  fyrefly98 | May 23, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Dickson's work is full of interesting information and is clearly well researched. Unfortunately, the narrative was difficult for me to follow probably because I am clearly not as well versed in Shakespeare as Mr, Dickson. For the Shakespeare scholar this book would be a truly great resource. ( )
  Hedgepeth | Jan 3, 2017 |
Inspired by an international Shakespeare festival held in London in the lead-up to the 2012 Olympics, journalist Dickson decides to explore just what has made Shakespeare and his plays such an international sensation. Over the next few years he travels to Germany, the USA, India, South Africa, and China to explore the history and various iterations of Shakespeare and his works in these widely varying locales. Dickson explores questions like how much the plays remain Shakespeare's when translated into other (contemporary) languages and contexts, whether the wide dissemination of the plays is just a result of colonialism rather than global appeal, and the different political uses for the Bard and his plays, among others. Part travelogue, part history, and part critical exploration Shakespeare's plays in multiple cultural contexts, the book is a fascinating exploration of just why so many people continue to read and perform plays in times and places far-flung from the Bard's origins rendered in beautifully evocative prose. Recommended for Shakespeare fans who enjoy a dose of armchair travel. ( )
1 vote MickyFine | Oct 7, 2016 |
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"There are 83 copies of the First Folio in a vault beneath Capitol Hill, the world's largest collection. Well over 150 Indian movies are based on Shakespeare's plays-more than in any other nation. If current trends continue, there will soon be more high-school students reading The Merchant of Venice in Mandarin Chinese than in early-modern English. Why did this happen-and how? Ranging ambitiously across four continents and 400 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, Dickson takes us on an extraordinary journey-from Hamlet performed by English actors tramping through Poland in the early 1600s to twenty-first century Shanghai, where Shashibiya survived Mao's Cultural Revolution to become an honored Chinese author. En route we visit Nazi Germany, where Shakespeare became an unlikely favorite, and delve into the history of Bollywood, where Shakespearian stories helped give birth to Indian cinema. In Johannesburg, we discover how Shakespeare was enlisted into the fight to end apartheid. In California, we encounter him as the most popular playwright of the American frontier. Both a cultural history and a literary travelogue, the first of its kind, Worlds Elsewhere explores how Shakespeare became the world's writer, and how his works have changed beyond all recognition during the journey"--

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