Monday, February 9, 2009

Should Shakespeare’s Works Be Translated To Other Languages?

Given that many non-native English speakers around the world have learned the Queen’s English through the works of William Shakespeare, should his works be translated to other languages?

By: Vanessa Uy

To me at least, I think the literary works of William Shakespeare should be left in their original English language – make that Modern English version. Given that they are often used by everyone around the world since Britain ruled the high seas as a way to learn the Queen’s English before US President Barack Obama’s inauguration speech, which recently gained popularity as an English language learning aid. And yet it seems like Shakespeare has even gained global dominance once his literary works were translated into other languages, especially into those languages that are very different in comparison to Romance and / or Latin-based languages.

One of the noted contemporary translators of Shakespeare’s literary works into German is Frank Günther. According to Günther, one of the secrets of becoming one of the best critically acclaimed translators of Shakespeare’s literary works into the German language is by not resorting into anachronism – i.e. one should avoid using words and phrases that came way after the time of Shakespeare when translating his works. Phrases like “letting off steam” or it’s equivalent in other languages should not be used when translating the literary works of Shakespeare because the phrase only came into existence during the Victorian-era Industrial Revolution of Great Britain. Which is way after our English Bard’s regular stints at the Globe Theater back in Queen Elizabeth I ’s Golden Age.

Even though various “contemporized” versions of Shakespeare’s works recently became box-office blockbusters, even though they are not to my taste. Like that version of Romeo and Juliet that starred Leonardo DiCaprio and Clare Danes – what will Hollywood think up next, a contemporary Othello based on Congolese Warlord Laurent N’Kunda? Most “hard-core Shakespeareans” always have reservations on this concept even though they are a very good moneymaker and had helped spread the popularity of William Shakespeare’s literary works around the world. Given the upside of an “Anachronistic Shakespeare”, should we nonetheless embrace every effort to make that great English bard William Shakespeare and his works not only popular, but remain relevant in the 21st Century?

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