by Gordon McMullan, Professor of English at King’s College London and Director of the London Shakespeare Centre
A little over a century ago, King’s English professor Israel (later Sir Israel) Gollancz –medievalist, Shakespearean and founding member of the British Academy – published a substantive commemorative volume to mark the Shakespeare Tercentenary of 1916. Grandly titled A Book of Homage to Shakespeare, it contains a hundred and sixty-six contributions – poems, essays, encomia – reflecting the pre-eminence of Shakespeare’s works in global culture: a poem by Thomas Hardy, a eulogy by John Galsworthy, a humorous ‘vision’ by Rudyard Kipling, a poem by a former New Zealand High Commissioner entitled ‘The Dream Imperial’, along with enthusiastic pieces by Shakespeare scholars and politicians from across the world.
Certain contributions stand out as expressing less normative world views – two in particular. One is a poem in Gaelic by future Irish president Douglas Hyde, in which (in a passage mysteriously omitted from the English translation…) he describes ‘Albion’ as ‘deceitful sinful guileful / Hypocritical destructive lying slippery’. The other is a piece entitled ‘A South African’s Homage’ by an unnamed writer who writes in Tswana, a language spoken mainly in contemporary South Africa and Botswana, also in Namibia and Zimbabwe – in other words, someone very different from what you might, in light of the array of overwhelmingly white establishment figures named in the table of contents, have expected.