As ever, I find myself wrestling with “Shakespeare in Translation.” I have been invited, as part of the Shakespeare Theatre Association Executive Board, to travel to Brazil for 10 days next month to serve as an adviser on a reconstructed Globe that the Instituto Gandarela is looking to build. Never mind that this is a trip to Brazil (!!!) or that I will get to work with the amazing Peter McCurdy, the builder behind Shakespeare’s Globe and their new indoor playhouse, The Wanamaker (and a good friend to the ASC). As I prepare for this trip, I am wondering how to get past our condemnation of “No Fear Shakespeare”-style translations (as so eloquently argued by our friends at the Folger Shakespeare Library) yet fight the good fight for Shakespeare in other languages.
Word has it (how I wish I could personally confirm) that the productions at Shakespeare’s Globe in London last summer as part of the Globe to Globe celebration were stunning and amazing explorations of theatrical production. I have personally, and to my delight, had the opportunity to see Der Brudermord, a German translation of Hamlet directed by Christine Schmidle at the Blackfriars Playhouse. The play was fun, and I didn’t have too much trouble following the story, despite it being in German (full disclosure: I am familiar with the English version). I thought the experience brought me closer to what German audiences seeing the play in English in the 17th century may have experienced, but I didn’t note any particularly stirring phrases or textual expertise that stirred me to embrace the play as I did when I saw Hamlet performed for the first time by Khris Lewin on our stage. At that performance, the “nunnery” rang in my ears, the “rant” struck my senses, the players “did not saw the air too much,” and I knew why.
My original training, in Theatre Arts, should provide a clear answer to my questions about these translated productions. Good theatre, good productions, good performances should satisfy the quandary. But, since immersing myself in the performance of Shakespeare here, I find that I cannot break those things from the text. From the words. From the arrangement of the words to form verse, to shape rhetorical figures, and to provide clues like embedded stage directions. Our practice is so engaged with the methods we think Shakespeare and his actors engaged with (see Tiffany Stern’s Rehearsal from Shakespeare to Sheridan, see the American Shakespeare Center’s Actors’ Renaissance Season podcasts, see our current education workshops list), that I don’t know where to begin with the question. But I would love to start a conversation. Are you an ESL/ELL student who loves (or, for that matter, hates) Shakespeare? Are you fluent in language other than English and have read (or written) translations? Are you a professor in Japan or Taiwan (as some of our Conference attendees are) who is working with students? What are you focused on when you discuss or play with Shakespeare? Do you find that Shakespeare has an influence on Portuguese? Or French? Can you recommend a place for those of us engaged in building a Global network of Shakespeare theatres (including education departments) to go to find a common thread for exploration with our foreign language students and audiences?
I look forward to hearing your thoughts and, working with Cass and Kimberly and our fabulous interns, to finding ways to make the work with do with all of our students deeply engaging and illuminating.