When Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for his part in the South African anti-apartheid uprising, he turned to a copy of “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare” for small comfort. Prisoners passed around the book and signed and highlighted their favorite passages, the passages that spoke to them the most.
On Dec. 16, 1977, Mandela signed a particular passage from the story “Julius Caesar.” It read: “Cowards die many times before their deaths/ The valiant never taste of death but once/ Of all the wonders that I yet have heard/ It seems to me most strange that men should fear/ seeing death, a necessary end, will come when it will come.”
When internationally renowned Royal Shakespeare Company’s artistic director Gregory Doran heard of the revolutionary’s connection to the Bard, it inspired a new take on the classic political tale. The RSC’s production of “Julius Caesar” is set in present-day Africa and includes contemporary West African music.
Also extraordinary: New York and Columbus are the only North American stages on which the RSC will perform its “Julius Caesar.”