Shipboard Performances and Entertainments

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Shipboard Performances and Entertainments

Also referred to by some simply as "Shipboard Entertainment" or "Maritime Performances", this refers to the age-old shipping practice of performing music, skits, plays, etc. on board ships as entertainment o0f crew and passengers. In cases where such events took place off the coast of a particular country, that would often be claimed as a performance IN that country - for example the very early record of performances of Hamlet and Richard II off the coasts of Sierra Leone and Southern Africa.

See also Marine Theatre

South African examples

1600(?): Francois Pyrard (fl 1600), a French passenger on an unnamed Portuguese ship sailing past the Cape of Good Hope, recorded the presentation of "a very pretty comedy that had been got ready and rehearsed on the way from Goa to the Cape, to be played when [they] passed it".

1608: Captain W. Keeling (fl. 1600) , commander of the Dutch East India Company's ship The Dragon recorded a number of shipboard performances of Shakespeare (Hamlet, Richard II, etc) as they sailed from Sierra Leone to the Cape of Good Hope. (There is some controversy about this claim though, see for example, James Seth's article, 2017).

1872: The Cape Argus of 28 December, 1872 reported a shipboard Christmas Eve entertainment on the mailboat "The Courland", consisting of a "farcical charade" by officers and passengers, based on the word "Indignation". The name of a certain Mr Gibbs is specifically mentioned as the author of the fine text.


F.C.L. Bosman. 1928. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel I: 1652-1855. Pretoria: J.H. de Bussy. [1]: pp.

F.C.L. Bosman. 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1912. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: p. 281

Jill Fletcher. 1994. The Story of Theatre in South Africa: A Guide to its History from 1780-1930. Cape Town: Vlaeberg: p.

James Seth. 2017. "Maritime Performance Culture and the Possible Staging of Hamlet in Sierra Leone", [2]

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