This blog introduces a Hamlet in Afrikaans, another example of a translated work from our library collection. South African artist Alma Flynn donated this book on the 5th May 1947, and it is a very special book for many reasons. The play text was used for the first Afrikaans production of Hamlet performed at His Majesty’s Theatre in Pretoria. The entire cast autographed the book, with most actors writing their names beside the characters they performed.
According to Anna Neething Pohl, who played Gertrude, the Afrikaans speaking Hamlet was received with great enthusiasm and productions in Johannesburg and Pretoria were sold out. The play struck a chord with Afrikaners who saw one of their main concerns expressed in the play: the ownership of land. To them, Hamlet experiences the same struggle, to win back Denmark after the murder of his father by Claudius. The actress described the sense of purpose that united the cast: “They were one and all together heart and soul.”
Visually, this book is of interest too. It includes plates depicting characters and scenes from Hamlet by the South African artist Maud Sumner. Her artistic output largely focused on interiors and still lives painted in vivid warm colours that capture a moment in time and a certain mood. Illustrating a Shakespeare play must have been a departure for her, and her sensitive ink and watercolour sketches add poignancy to a book that embodies an important moment in South African theatrical history.
One can only speculate how this book came into the possession of Alma Flynn. Perhaps she was a friend of Sumner and had been asked to present it to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust library. Unlike many of our donated books, which include letters from donors pasted on to the preliminary pages, this book lacks this informative detail, although it’s no less intriguing.