Update on the Shakespeare Industry

(July 2002)

Ton Hoenselaars and Paul Franssen


Late last year saw a new publication by the Centre de Traduction Littéraire de Lausanne in Switzerland: a collection of essays entitled Translating / traduire / tradurre Shakespeare (CTL, No. 40, Lausanne 2001. ISBN 2-88357-040-X). This volume, edited by Irene Weber Henking, contains four substantial papers on Shakespeare in translation. Among other things, it includes a paper by Simona Gorga on the Italian translator Eugenio Montale, and one by Martine Hennard Dutheil de la Rochière on traditions of translating sonnet 18 into French. Jean-Michel Déprats - general editor and translator of the new Pléiade Shakespeare - discusses a range of "Problématiques de la traduction shakespearienne." Déprats argues convincingly that the proliferation of ever new translations replacing existing ones does not annul the merits of the latter, but, rather, reveals a valuable dynamic as the target language continues to develop, and as ever new productions of the play are undertaken under ever new cultural conditions. Especially recommendable is John E. Jackson's paper entitled "What's in a Sonnet? Translating Shakespeare," which looks at the sonnet translations of Stefan George, Paul Celan, Pierre Jean Jouve, and Giuseppi Ungaretti. Comparing four versions of sonnet 2, Jackson demonstrates how one may certainly identify a main tradition of Shakespeare sonnet translations, but also a range of individual traditions, as each translator-poet in the act of translation establishes a degree of distance from the original, a stand of his or her own. Just as the Italian poet-translator of Shakespeare is likely to be especially intrigued by the various features of the sonnet's form, which originated in Italy, so the Jewish poet-translator who has witnessed the holocaust is likely to respond to the commercial metaphor of sonnet 2 in striking new ways, and, after the experience of the concentration camps, to read rather disturbing truths as well as responsibilities in "thine own deep-sunken eyes." Jackson's sensitive analysis of Paul Celan's version of sonnet 2 - one of the sonnets calling for the addressee's procreation - effectively disproves Theodor Adorno's claim that "after Auschwitz poetry [was] no longer possible." The papers in this collection are preceded by Neil Forsyth's "Shakespeare the European," arguing that in some ways, at least, "Shakespeare is far more eloquent, and so much more truly experienced as a European than as an Englishman."

On the Belgian stage, Shakespeare's Macbeth was the most popular play in 2001. No less than seven versions of the tragedy were presented, including Verdi's early opera (no doubt on the occasion of the centenary of the composer's death), Chinese director Wu Hsing Kuo's Kingdom of Desire, and Gerardjan Rijnders' Macbeth directed for Toneelgroep Amsterdam. The Ghent-based theatre journal Documenta (Vol. XIX, no. 3, 2001) devotes attention to all these productions with valuable articles by Johan Thielemans ("Macbeth: een ingewikkelde echokamer"), Alexander Schreuder ("Macbeth in de ensceneringen van E. Nekrošius en O. Mafaalani"), and Thomas Crombez ("Wreedheid en verbeelding in Shakespeares Macbeth").

Part of the festivities surrounding the Dutch royal wedding, which took place in February 2002, was a lunchtime concert at the Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. Curiously, on this occasion the Concertgebouw Orchestra, conducted by Riccardo Chailly, played the suite from Prokoviev's Romeo and Juliet. After the last sounds of "Juliet's Death" had been drowned by the thunderous ovation from the invited guests, the crown prince thanked Maestro Chailly and the Concertgebouw Orchestra for their hospitality as well as their musical offering, but he admitted that the performance left him with regrets that the music could not have been rewritten, to produce a happy ending instead. As the Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad had it the next morning: "William Alexander pointed out that he had not been responsible for the choice of Romeo and Juliet. 'It would have been nicer if, for this special occasion, the ending of the story could have been rewritten,' said the prince" (p. 4). Of course, the prince's wish to have the plot of Romeo and Juliet adapted was not new. Georg Anton Benda's operatic version of the play - Romeo und Julie (1776) - ended with a reconciliation between the Capellets and the Montecchi, symbolized by the lovers'official marriage. And in 1661, James Howard's rewrite entitled Romeo and Juliet: A Tragi-Comedy, had been reviled by Samuel Pepys. To please the varying tastes of Restoration audiences, the play was performed first as a tragedy and next as a tragicomedy on alternate nights.

Also Dirk Tanghe's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream (which won the 2001/2 NRC/Handelsblad readers' theatre award) alluded to the Dutch-Argentinian royal wedding that kept the Netherlands under its spell during the early months of 2002. In the Tanghe production, the Athenians producing Pyramus and Thisbe on the occasion of a royal wedding provided a fitting analogy with the festivities organized for Prince William Alexander and Princess Maxíma. The strong hold of the royals on the Shakespearean acting space also became apparent during the production of Twelfth Night at the Appel Theater in the Hague. Here, orange was one of the dominant colours. Also the live tango tunes from the bandoneon (the instrument that had reduced Maxíma to tears during the church ceremony in Amsterdam), strongly suggested to doubters like Count Orsino that music may well be the food of love.

On 11 May 2002, Martin van Amerongen, the Dutch journalist, writer, and editor-in-chief of De Groene Amsterdammer, died of cancer, at the age of sixty. Van Amerongen published widely on music (Wagner, Bach) and literature (Shakespeare, Heine). His special bond with Shakespeare became markedly apparent when, shortly after his sister's death, Van Amerongen announced his own fatal illness in De Groene Amsterdammer, quoting from Hamlet the observation of Claudius that "When sorrows come, they come not single spies, / But in battalions." Shortly before his death, he agreed to a television interview. Asked if there was anything he had not yet accomplished in life, his answer was that he would still have liked to write a book on the theme of murder in Shakespeare. On the occasion of his death, Van Amerongen's publisher Mets & Schilt produced a book edition of his last Shakespeare essay for De Groene: "Heeft een jood geen ogen…" ("Has not a Jew eyes ...").

No doubt the greatest Shakespearean event in Paris this spring was the publication of the first two volumes of the new French Shakespeare translation in the Pléiade series (ISBN 2-07-011362-0 and ISBN 2-07-011362-9). In addition to the Shakespearean scholar and widely performed translator, Jean-Michel Déprats - who serves as general editor on the project, assisted by Gisèle Venet - the distinguished contributors to these two volumes, presenting the tragedies as parallel texts in English and French, include Line Cottegnies, Jérôme Hankins, Richard Marienstras, Yves Peyré, Lois Potter, Jean-Pierre Richard, Henri Suhamy, and Catherine Treilhou-Balaudé. Each play has been newly edited and translated, and comes with a full introduction and notes (the latter two presented at the end of each volume). Anne Barton has written a long introductory chapter on the life of Shakespeare, and Déprats a fifty-page credo on "Traduire Shakespeare," to which we shall have occasion to return in a future issue of Folio.

In an earlier edition of this column, we mentioned the recently discovered Sanders portrait, supposed to portray a young Shakespeare. This portrait will be the subject of a conference entitled "Picturing Shakespeare?" to be held at the University of Toronto in Canada on November 15-16. For details, see: <>
Meanwhile, another portrait with Shakespearean connections has surfaced in England, supposedly showing Henry Wriothesly, the Earl of Southampton, one of Shakespeare's patrons and frequently regarded as a leading candidate for the mysterious Mr. W.H. (not, alas, H.W.) of the sonnets, a.k.a. the "Fair Friend." The portrait shows a person wearing long hair, ear-rings, and possibly rouge and lipstick. For centuries, this had been regarded as the picture of a woman. Not surprisingly, the feminine appearance of the Earl (if it is him) immediately led to renewed speculation on the nature of Shakespeare's relations with him: one headline referred to the portrait as that of "Shakespeare's gay lover." Critics point out, however, that perceptions of what is effeminate and camp are culturally determined and liable to change over time. The portrait is currently on display at Hatchlands Park in Surrey.

While we may have gained another portrait with Shakespearean connections, a text has been lost from the canon. In 1996, there were heated debates about the attribution of a 1612 Funerall Elegye, signed W.S., to Shakespeare. Don Foster, an American expert in computational stylistics, endorsed the attribution on the basis of his Shaxicon computer programme. On 12 June 2002, however, Foster announced that he had changed his mind because of overwhelming stylistic evidence produced by the French scholar Gilles Monsarrat in the latest issue of Review of English Studies, showing that the Funerall Elegye was in fact written by John Ford. In the mean time, the poem had been printed as possibly Shakespeare's in some prestigious editions, including the Norton Shakespeare and the Riverside 2.

In February, the Shakespeare Institute at Stratford hosted the inaugural conference of our British sister organization, the British Shakespeare Association. A steering group was set up, to work on four areas: Shakespeare and Schools; Shakespeare Academic; Shakespeare Theatre / Academic; and Shakespeare Theatre / Community. Plans and proposals include a journal, both for the general public and (at a discount) for members, annual general conferences as well as special undergraduate conferences. The BSA's website, featuring discussions of the future of the BSA and other news on matters Shakespearean, can be found at <>

In late April, Adrian Noble announced that he will resign as artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company when his contract expires in March 2003. Noble, who has been with the RSC for 22 years, had recently initiated a number of controversial changes, including a restructuring of the RSC, an increased emphasis on productions outside Stratford (mainly in London and the United States), and plans to tear down the prestigious Royal Shakespeare Theatre, its monumental proscenium arch theatre in Stratford, to make room for a new theatre and, indeed, an entire theatre village. It looks uncertain whether all these plans, in particular the last, will still be carried out in their entirety. The latest RSC statements are less definite about the demolition plans, which had given rise to a campaign to save the theatre.

If you think Shakespeare is cool, you might want to plan a trip to northern Sweden this winter. The Observer of 20 January mentions plans for erecting a "six-metre high replica of London's open air Globe Theatre ... hewn from blocks of river ice and built alongside the famous Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi in Swedish Lapland." What is more, from January to early April, Shakespeare's Scandinavian play Hamlet will be performed in the open-air theatre, in English. The editors of Folio look forward to future productions of other heart-warming Shakespeare plays there, such as The Winter's Tale; by contrast, the Midsummer Night's Dream, or even Richard II, with its imagery of a melting snowman, would be asking for trouble. For more detailed information, see the hotel's website at <>.

Close to the site of the original Globe theatre in London, excavations have laid bare the remains of a wooden house thought to have belonged to Shakespeare's company. It is believed to have been used to lodge the company's actors, possibly including Shakespeare himself, and seems to have been burned to the ground in 1613, along with the adjoining first Globe theatre.


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