Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

Translating Shakespeare

Shakespeare Unlimited

What happens when Shakespeare’s work is translated into foreign languages? Is it still Shakespeare? Or does something fundamental to the original evaporate in the process?

“Bless Thee! Thou Art Translated,” a podcast in the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Shakespeare Unlimited series, raises these thought-provoking questions.

A translator can retain the story, characters, and ideas of a play, but the intricate wordplay proves much more difficult. For one thing, it’s impossible to translate Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter into a language like Korean, in which poetry is based on syllable counts, not stresses. And what is to be done with those well-crafted puns?

However, translation also opens up possibilities for new depths of meaning, as the familiar recedes and a different perspective takes over.

Sound interesting? Go ahead – take a short break from back-to-school prep and listen to this delightful podcast.

Do you have any of your own stories to share about encountering Shakespeare in a different language or culture? Tell us in the comments.

One Comment

  • Naturally, it’s impossible to translate Shakespeare. But, paradoxically, I’ve heard that hearing Shakespeare performed in one’s native (non-English) language makes him more comprehensible than he is to many speakers of modern English, where there are not only many unfamiliar words, but also “false cognates”–seemingly familiar words whose meanings have evolved so much that we think we understand them more than we actually do.

    From the viewpoint of the authorship debate, a colleague at Georgetown told me Edward de Vere couldn’t have written the canon. Among other reasons, she felt his using translations from languages he knew (French, Italian, Latin, Greek, etc.) was illogical, when he could read the original. She was then generous to acknowledge, however, that she found my reply intriguing: that de Vere loved the process of translation itself– what was then called “Englishing” a literary work.

    Some of us think de Vere collaborated with his uncle Arthur Golding on the translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses that so strongly influenced Shakespeare’s works. De Vere sponsored the publication of a translation of Cardanus Comfort, and also of a Latin translation of Castiglione’s Book of the Courtier.

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