Hamlet in Africa 1607



In your mind’s eye, I would like to conjure up a company of British seamen, far from home. These men will spend the afternoon on shore, sweating, shooting an elephant.2 But in the cool of the morning they gather on board ship for a different kind of sport. Within sight of conspiratorial packs of long-tailed monkeys on the rocks, within earshot of the estuary’s cranes and pelicans, a sailor steps onto the deck.3 He holds a weapon that combines a spear with a hatchet. He points this weapon in the direction of another man, and says, “Who’s there?”—The first words of Shakespeare spoken outside of Europe.4


Seventeenth Century East India Company Board Ship Diplomatic Mission English East India Company 
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  1. 2.
    The most comprehensive edition of the surviving documents is P. E. H. Hair’s Sierra Leone and the English in 1607: Extracts from the Unpublished Journals of the Keeling Voyage to the East Indies, Occasional Paper No. 4 (Freetown: Institute of African Studies, University of Sierra Leone, 1981); although Hair’s extracts omit some passages and contain some errors, they are generally accurate and relatively complete for the days in Sierra Leone. In citing the manuscript journals (from the originals), I supplement the manuscript folios with page numbers from Hair. All the extant manuscripts are now in the British Library: William Hawkins, Egerton MS 2100; Anthony Marlowe, Cotton MS Titus B VIII; John Hearne and William Finch (aboard the Dragon; see extracts), India Office MS L/MAR/A/v; Unidentified, India Office MS L/MAR/A/iv. This fourth manuscript breaks off abruptly at the foot of a page, after entry for 30 August, then begins again 18 February, then ends mid-entry 12 March.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    The most thorough early eyewitness account of flora and fauna in the estuary is André Donelha, An Account of Sierra Leone and the Rivers of Guinea of Cape Verde, ed. Avelino Teixero da Mota, trans. P. E. H. Hair (Lisbon: Junta de Investigates Cientificas do Ultramar, 1977).Google Scholar
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    Manuel Álvares, Ethiopia Minor and a Geographical Account of the Province of Sierra Leone (ca. 1615), trans. P. E. H. Hair (Liverpool: privately published, 1990), f. 62–62v (ch. 4, p. 4), f. 77 (ch. 10, p. 3). For ear and nose rings in particular, see André Alvares de Almada, Brief Treatise on the Rivers of Guinea (ca. 1594), trans. P. E. H. Hair (Liverpool: privately published, 1984), ch. 15, p. 5 (and commentary note). Hair’s “interim translations” have no through pagination; Álvares is cited by chapter and page, Almada by chapter and paragraph.Google Scholar
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© Ivo Kamps and Jyotsna G. Singh 2001

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