Robben Island signatures in King Lear and Antony and Cleopatra

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This article includes information on signatures in a 1970 edition of The Alexander Text of the Complete Works of Shakespeare that circulated throughout the Robben Island prison in South Africa from 1975 to 1978 and was featured in A Book Behind Bars: The Robben Island Shakespeare, one of the Exhibitions at the Folger.

King Lear

Frank Anthony, page 1074

Frank Anthony is one of three prisoners who marked pages in King Lear. David Schalkwyck writes that “Of all Shakespeare’s works [Lear] combines a representation of particular political forms of dispossession and concomitant suffering within a concrete grasp of the metaphysics of human need that resonate especially well with the struggle against political oppression and the absolute reduction—like Lear and Poor Tom on the heath—of the body and mind to their barest forms of existence. In the play, as on Robben Island, the specificity of the political is intertwined with the irreducible needs of the human.” †

Anthony appears to have marked the entire opening passage.

Hamlet’s Dreams, p. 61

Justice Mpanza & M. Essop, page 1113

Both Justice Mpanza and Mohamed Essop chose Edgar’s closing declaration:

"The weight of this sad time we must obey;
Speak what we feel, now what we ought to say."
(King Lear, 5.3.323–6)

Antony and Cleopatra

T. Dawetti, page 1196

Antony and Cleopatra is the only Roman play, aside from the popular Julius Casear, to be marked by a prisoner. Thompson Dawetti’s signature comes at the very end of the play—it is unclear whether it marks, then, the entirety of the play, or just these final lines:

CAESAR: She shall be buried by her Antony;
No grave upon the earth shall clip in it a pair so famous.
High events as these
Strike those that them; and their story is
No less in pity than his glory which
Brought them to be lamented."
(Antony and Cleopatra, 5.2.355–60)

The significance to Dawetti of the play, or of its final lines, is not known.