Worlds Elsewhere by Andrew Dickson

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Worlds Elsewhere by Andrew Dickson

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Category: Reference
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Luke Marlowe
Reviewed by Luke Marlowe
Summary: Managing to be both a Travelogue and a Scholarly criticism, author Andrew Dickson manages the rather remarkable feat of making the reader look at Shakespeare in a new light. Forget what you've seen of his plays from trips to the Globe or tired videos in the classroom – this is an exploration of Shakespeare around the world, and considers the global and cultural reach of a man who never once left the England…
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 512 Date: April 2016
Publisher: Vintage
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780099578956

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From the sixteenth-century Baltic to the American Revolution, from colonial India to the skyscrapers of modern-day Shanghai, Shakespeare's plays appear at the most fascinating of times in the most unexpected of places. But what is it about Shakespeare – a man who never once left England, which has made him an icon across the globe? Travelling across four continents, six countries and 400 years, Worlds Elsewhere attempts to understand Shakespeare in his role as an international phenomenon.

We all know Shakespeare, and we all know his work. Even if we haven't seen all of his plays, his influence on our everyday lives is undeniable – for many of us he is one of our first experiences with theatre. Studying him in school may dull his appeal, but even those who don't seek out his work will find it everywhere, with tv shows and films borrowing from him as he borrowed from those before him. He's our Shakespeare – an English hero and subject of national pride. But what do other countries think of him? He's become a figure of global admiration – but how do his works translate to different languages, let alone different cultures?

It's a very big question, and one that has been the subject of some serious academic study. Author Andrew Dickson chooses to combine his study with travelling to various places around the world to explore Shakespeare on their terms – meaning what could become a dry piece of academia transforms into a lively and entertaining voyage. Dickson proves an excellent host for the reader too, illuminating and explaining but never making the book all about himself – as I find many travelogue authors are prone to do…

So, what of Shakespeare around the world? Here the book truly fascinates. It's odd, as I think my image of Shakespeare was so ingrained in my mind as English, that I never really thought about how he would be portrayed around the world, and how his works would be perceived. Translated into over 90 languages, Shakespeare is known in Germany as Unser Shakespeare, given how entirely they have taken him to their hearts – and more Shakespeare productions appear a year in Germany than do in England. Perhaps they benefit from the ability of being able to translate the works afresh – many over here are put off by the imagined antiquity of Shakespeare's language, whereas overseas his works can be translated into the modern tongue. Dickson also explores cultural differences too – In a culture where alcohol is forbidden, how can Gertrude drink a cup of wine? (Spoilers – they use milk). There's also interesting discussion on how Shakespeare can be used to both support and destabilise regimes – with Othello adopted to bring down apartheid, and The Merchant of Venice reportedly altered by Goebbels in order to promote anti-Semitism.

Facts aside, this is also a damn good read. Dickson has encounters that are side splittingly funny, and moments that are rather touching – plus his brief journeys to other countries allow him to soak up a surprisingly large amount of insights into the culture – I think seeing how these cultures adapt Shakespeare says a huge amount about their traditions and history. Through the travels he also explores some of Shakespeare's works in depth – providing new information for me, and shining a light on characters I was rather unfamiliar with.

An entertaining, informative and hugely enjoyable read, Worlds Elsewhere provides a fascinating look at a man who never set foot outside of England, yet, rather undeniably, changed the whole world. One can only wonder what Shakespeare would think of his reach today… Thanks to the publishers for the copy.

If you're intrigued by the travelogue aspect, but worried about the focus on Shakespeare (Perhaps you've been put off by a school curriculum that foisted repeated readings Shakespeare play on you. I know I was – I feel a brief sense of panic whenever I see Twelfth Night…) I would recommend Shakespeare on Toast by Ben Crystal. It's a clever and simple way of breaking down exactly why Shakespeare is brilliant, and just why everybody should give him a go.

Buy Worlds Elsewhere by Andrew Dickson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Worlds Elsewhere by Andrew Dickson at

Buy Worlds Elsewhere by Andrew Dickson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Worlds Elsewhere by Andrew Dickson at


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