The Bard of Avon

Shakespeare-in-TranslationWho is unfamiliar with the name of William Shakespeare, the “Bard of Avon”? He is considered the greatest playwright in the history of the English language and an ultimate dramatist. He has left a long list of famous contributions behind him. His plays and works have been translated into all major languages and are performed more than the plays of any other writer to date. By the end of the 16th century, theaters began to re-open in England. English actors began staging Shakespeare’s plays at central places like royal courts, town markets and churchyards of different countries like Germany, France, Denmark, Poland and Russia. His scripts were adapted according to the styles and languages of these different audiences.

The initial translations of Shakespearean plays were made in French and German. The year 1833 marked the recognition of Shakespeare as the third greatest author in Germany after Schiller and Goethe. The reputation of his remarkable works in the 18th century can be discerned by the fact that his works were translated by then rulers like Tsarina Catherine the Great, who made the Russian translation of Merry Wives of Windsor, and King of Poland Stanislaus August, who made a French translation of Julius Caesar.

By the end of the 18th century, England hailed Shakespeare as its national poet and Stratford-upon-Avon was established as a tribute to his works. He was also widely appreciated by the great Romantic poets of England and the western world, such as John Keats, Johann Wolfgang van Goethe and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. His works left a lasting impression on literature and theatre worldwide. Until the presentation of Romeo and Juliet, romance and tragedy were seldom seen as connected. He also influenced later prominent novelists, including Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens and William Faulkner.

Shakespeare’s vocabulary was extensive, though simple. In his writings, he used around 29,066 different unique words. He also introduced approximately 3000 new words into the English language. He actually set the standards for Modern English. Today, people love to read his translated pieces as they are simpler to read than the English used in his original works. However, for such classics as those of Shakespeare, some critics assert that substituting words from his works completely alters their meaning. They claim that translated pieces cannot substitute for reading his original works because Shakespeare’s use of language is so sophisticated. Shakespeare’s works often have two meanings in their words, manifest (obvious) and latent (disguised) meaning. Translations in a modern vernacular can only aid one in understanding the obvious meaning but cannot highlight the underlying connotations. The best way is to take the time and study his works in their original forms to have a greatly rewarding literary experience.

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