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David Schalkwyk on the Robben Island Shakespeare

Shakespeare Unlimited podcast series

David Schalkwyk

Cowards die many times before their deaths,

the valiant never taste of death but once.

NM Mandela
December 16, 1977

David Schalkwyk on the Robben Island Shakespeare

While Nelson Mandela was incarcerated on South Africa's Robben Island, one of the other political prisoners managed to retain a copy of Shakespeare's complete works, which was secretly circulated through the group. At that prisoner's request, many of the others—including Mandela—signed their names next to their favorite passages.


As Shakespeare scholar David Schalkwyk, also a South African, explains to interviewer Rebecca Sheir, there is something special about "a book that had passed through the hands of the people who had saved my country."

Schalkwyk shares some personal history and reveals what Shakespeare might have meant to the men who signed the Robben Island Shakespeare.

David Schalkwyk is Professor of English at the University of Cape Town and, beginning in 2009, has served as Director of Research at the Folger Shakespeare Library and editor of Shakespeare Quarterly. He is also the author of Speech and Performance in Shakespeare’s Sonnets, Plays, Literature and the Touch of the Real, and Shakespeare, Love and Service. His most recent book, Hamlet’s Dreams: The Robben Island Shakespeare, was published in February 2013.



From the Shakespeare Unlimited podcast series.

Produced for the Folger Shakespeare Library by Richard Paul; Garland Scott, associate producer.

  In The Shop

Hamlet's Dreams: The Robben Island Shakespeare

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Robben Island Shakespeare

Shakespeare. Complete Works. 1970

Shakespeare. Complete Works. 1970

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