There will be a Shakespeare reading in the reading rooms of the Seoul Union to-morrow afternoon at 5 o’clock. It is desired that all readers be there promptly at that hour. Mrs. Alex. Kenmure [?] will serve tea at 4 o’clock.
– The Independent, Thursday, 16 Dec. 1897, page 3, column 2, PDF via Media GaOn
Some more browsing yielded a few more announcements of similar readings:
The fourth Shakespeare reading will take place in the reading rooms of the Seoul Union to-morrow afternoon at 5 o’clock. Dr. Cutler and Miss Rothweiler will serve tea at 4 o’clock.
– The Independent, Thursday, 13 Jan. 1898, page 2, column 2, PDF
The fifth Shakespeare reading will be given in the reading rooms of the Seoul Union at five o’clock to-morrow afternoon. “Julius Caesar” will be read. Mrs. S. F. Moore will serve tea at four o’clock.
– The Independent, Thursday, 27 Jan. 1898, page 2, column 3, PDF
There will be a Shakespear [sic] reading in the reading rooms of the Seoul Union to-morrow afternoons at 5 o’clock. Mrs. O. R. Avison will serve tea at 4:30 o’clock.
– The Independent, Thursday, 3 Feb. 1898, page 2, column 3, PDF
In total, these are the supposed dates of the Shakespeare-readings at Seoul Union I could find in The Independent, all of them on Friday afternoon, 5 pm:
Obviously, not all readings have been announced. Although the dates suggest a bi-weekly meeting, with a possibly omitted Dec. 31, the sixth (?) reading took place only one week after the last. I suppose that readings had taken place earlier in Nov. 1897, too. On the other two Fridays of the month, other entertainment events seem to have been held at the Seoul Union.
I did some research on the early reception of Shakespeare in Korea when writing a paper for the German Shakespeare Society back in 2009 (here you can find some follow-up notes). Jong-hwan Kim (김정환), my main source for the historical introduction, is quite clear with regard to the first mentioning of Shakespeare:
It was […], in 1906, in a magazine called Joyangbo, that the name of Shakespeare appeared for the first time in Korea. His name was written not as Shakespeare, however, but as “Saygusbeea,” reflecting the influence of the Japanese way of pronunciation. (p.38)
– Jong-hwan Kim, “Shakespeare in a Korean Cultural Context”, Asian Theatre Journal, 12.1 (Spring, 1995), pp. 37–49 (JSTOR).
I cannot recall any mention of the readings, neither in Kim’s more detailed dissertation (“Shakespeare in Korea. 1906–1989”, Univ. of Nebraska, 1992) nor in Sin Jeong-ok’s major book on the reception of Shakespeare in Korea (신정옥, 셰익스피어 한국에 오다, 백산출판사 1998, “Shakespeare Comes to Korea”), that I used for factchecking.
Given that the readings were announced in The Independent, they can certainly be considered public events. The Seoul Union was “a social center for foreign residents”, where in 1900 the Korea Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society would be founded (see Brother Anthony’s chronology of the RASKB’s early days). But it seems that people from the wider world of theatre were not attending—or at least the influence of these readings must have been minimal.
Kind of an early “dead end” in the reception of Shakespeare and therefore probably unimportant within a wider history of theatre in early modern Korea, these readings are nevertheless quite interesting. They testify to rather simplified deterritorialized practices (readings, maybe by several persons?, instead of stagings) that were taken to “the colonies”, although the British were not the de-facto colonists here in Korea. While colonial centers like Shanghai, Singapore, or Tokyo offered touring acts by ensembles from Britain and elsewhere, Seoul seems to have been a bit of the track (but wait, there’s more from the old newspaper archive to come…).
– 22 Feb. 2015 (日)