Robben Island signatures in Macbeth

This article includes information on signatures in the margins of Macbeth from 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.

Andrew Mlengeni, page 1005

The playwright Matthew Hahn interviewed many of the prisoners who signed the Robben Island Shakespeare for his play, Robben Island Bible, based on the story of the book. The interviews are striking because some of the former prisoners have no recollection of signing the book, no any idea why they may have signed the passage they did. ANC member and Rivonia Trialist Andrew Mlengeni is one such prisoner.

His name appears under a passage in Macbeth (Act 1, Scene 7, Lines 62–67), but in his interview he claims, "I don’t know the reason for me for choosing that quotation. But the one that I do slightly … the one quotation that I always liked was the one that says ‘uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.'" This quote though is in Henry IV, Part 2.

Eddie Daniels, page 1024

Eddie Daniels also signed his name within the text of Macbeth. Although Daniels left Robben Island with two university degrees earned in correspondence with the University of South Africa, he came to the prison illiterate. He learned of Shakespeare in prison, and played the role of Marc Antony in Julius Caesar. He signed his name by the passage in which Macbeth reflects upon the death of his wife:

MACBETH: Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death! Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow.
(Macbeth, 5.4.19–24)

Unlike his fellow prisoner Mlengeni, Daniels claims that he would choose this passage again, that his enchantment with the speech persists and that he finds resonance in Shakespeare's concern for (as he put it) "the insignificance of man."