“I used to lie in the Bush under the stars reading Shakespeare’s plays, not thinking about the killing that would take place in the morning.” — Presidential Advisor for Culture, Government of South Sudan in their proposal for the Globe to Globe project
Globe to Globe (running now through June 9 at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London) is bringing theater companies together from all across the world to perform 37 of Shakespeare’s plays in 37 different languages. It’s a testament to how Shakespeare is revered in English- and non-English-speaking countries alike. There’s All’s Well That Ends Well in Gujarati, Hamlet in Lithuanian, Loves Labours Lost in British Sign Language, South Sudan’s Cymbeline in Juba-Arabic, and 33 more titles, all just as intriguing. Each performance runs an English subtitle that summarizes scenes, but the whole of the play’s communication rests in the native language and staging of the visiting company.
Now, when it comes to the language of Renaissance drama, I’m an ardent aficionado, or a stickler, if you will. And I was curious to see how Globe to Globe could succeed without Shakespeare’s actual words — those perfect English words. Turns out, the play really is the thing.
Globe to Globe celebrates the plays’ stories, characters, imagery, and emotions, but more importantly shows how wildly diverse societies examine themselves through Shakespeare. Despite the language barrier between audience and performer, the theater as a whole experiences a common link. Shakespeare belongs to all of us. Watching his work in this way, we share a new interpretation of ourselves, and get the chance to see, as Globe Artistic Director Dominic Dromgoole writes, “our almost infinite difference, and our strange and humbling commonality.”
So, my concerns about missing the most perfect turns of the English language were largely unfounded. The plays are so good, that in the hands of passionate performers they go beyond the need to comprehend the words to get their meaning. We are all Jaques, Juliet, Prince Hal, Beatrice…
I went outside last night, thinking about the amazing journey of the South Sudan Theatre Company, and the stories of people from all over the world finding their solace, their joy in Shakespeare. And I wondered, as I looked up at the sky, where else on the planet might someone also be saying, “There was a star danced, and under that was I born.”