Africa’s Theater of War

Shakespeare and Nation Building on the Continent

An actor from the South Sudan Theatre Company rehearses for Cymbeline, March 2012. Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah / Reuters

A young woman lies on the ground, dressed as a boy to keep her safe in a time of war. Standing above her are soldiers in khaki uniforms and warriors wearing the beads of the Dinka and Nuer peoples, bark-cloth skirts made by the Bari tribe, and Lotuka battle helmets fashioned out of spent bullet cartridges. Their homeland has been ravaged by 50 years of civil war, and rape is commonly used as a weapon. The woman’s fate is uncertain; the tension unbearable. Then, one of the warriors recognizes her as his long-lost wife and lifts her in an embrace. The tension is broken, and the onlookers remember they are not watching events in battle-scarred South Sudan but a play at the Globe Theatre in London, the final scene in a production of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline.

This event, held at the Globe in 2012, was not an average theatrical performance. The

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