Nelson Mandela's Shakespeare edition, dubbed the 'Robben Island Bible,' to be shown at British Museum


Nelson Mandela looks at a copy of his new book "Nelson Mandela, by himself" a book of quotations from him book. The book was launched June 27 at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Houghton, Johannesburg.


Debbie Yazbek/Nelson Mandela Foundation

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Nelson Mandela's copy of the Complete Works of Shakespeare, which he kept hidden in his Robben Island jail cell, is going on display at the British Museum in London.

The book inspired Mandela during his time in prison, and was dubbed the "Robben Island Bible," according to the BBC. It includes notes added by Mandela and other political prisoners.

It will be displayed in the British Museum's "Shakespeare: Staging the World" exhibition, which opens next month as part of the World Shakespeare Festival, under the London 2012 Festival.

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Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years, much of that time on Robben Island. He was released in 1990, and in 1994 became South Africa's first democratically elected president.

The Shakespeare edition was smuggled into the Robben Island prison by being disguised as a Hindu religious book.

According to Mandela's official biographer, Anthony Sampson, Mandela chose this passage from Julius Caesar as his favorite by Shakespeare:

"Cowards die many times before their deaths/The valiant never taste of death but once."

Next to the passage, Mandela signed his name along with the date Dec. 16, 1977.

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In March, thousands of documents, photos and videos about Mandela were made available for free online in a new digital archive of the South African anti-apartheid hero's life.

The Google-funded collection includes Mandela's letters to family, friends and comrades, and notes he made during negotiations to dismantle apartheid South Africa.

Mandela, 93, has been in frail health in recent years, and hasn't appeared in public since 2010 when South Africa hosted the soccer World Cup.

He spent a night in hospital last month after undergoing a diagnostic procedure to investigate what was described as a long-standing abdominal complaint. Doctors said he was in no danger, and described him as being in fine condition for his age.

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