In observance of William Shakespeare’s 450th birthday, the University Library has had cases with some important editions of Shakespeare displayed in the Entrance Hall, including the UL’s copy of the First folio which was bequeathed to the Library in 1894. In this post, we will look at the UL’s collection of Shakespeare in translation.
The UL has several thousand editions of Shakespeare’s works—a simple search the Library’s Newton catalogue reveals 4822 items written by him, dating from 1608 (apparently an incorrect attribution) to 2013. A search on Library Search, the Library catalogue that searches across all libraries in the University, reveals approximately 9,000 items attributed to William Shakespeare, including almost 3,000 items in college libraries. This search can be narrowed down based on the language of the item.
The UL’s collection of Shakespeare includes a significant number of works in translation: from Arabic (2 translations, from 1940 and 2012) to Welsh (1 item, published in 1960). Of the UL’s 4822 items, 344 are translations. The largest numbers of Shakespeare translations in the UL are in German (94), French (39), Russian (24), Japanese (21), Czech (20), Italian (18), and Spanish (10). The UL has eight 18th century translations of Shakespeare, 3 of which are of Hamlet. Among the other 18th century translations are King Lear, The Tempest, and an 8 volume set of Shakespeare’s works. This is indicative of the fact that in general, Shakespeare’s histories were translated later than his comedies and tragedies. (Manfred Pfister. Shakespeare’s History Plays: Performance, Translation, and Adaptation in Britain and Abroad (review). Shakespeare Quarterly (Volume 57, Number 1) Spring 2006. p. 92. (subscription database))
The German translations date from between 1775 and a 2014 edition of Hamlet purchased in 2014 and currently in the bindery. Of these 94 items, 24 were published prior to 1900, and 5 prior to 1800. German translations came much earlier and more frequently than French, as demonstrated by the general chronology of Shakespeare translations compiled at the University of Basel.
The nine volume German translation of Shakespeare’s plays by August Wilhelm von Schlegel and Ludwig Tieck was greatly admired, and quickly superseded the earlier translation of 1818-1829 by Johann Heinrich Voss and his sons (S724.d.81.1-9). Published between 1825 and 1833, this translation ensured Shakespeare’s importance for the German stage, and his plays came to be performed more frequently in Germany than in England. Hamlet exerted a particular fascination, exemplified by the Ferdinand Freiligrath poem of 1844 that opens “Deutschland ist Hamlet”. The Library’s first edition of Schlegel and Tieck stands at CCC.38.67-75, and was acquired as part of a transfer of German antiquarian material from the Beit Library in 1891. A third edition, 8002.d.157-162, was published in 1843-1844, and purchased by the Library in 2002.
The French translations date from between 1859 (a 16 volume set that was recently received and sent for conservation, along with a 17 volume set dating from 1871-1881) and 2013. 14 items are pre-1900. These include important versions such as Antony and Cleopatra and Hamlet translated by André Gide (Leigh.d.6.155 and Leigh.d.6.156 ) and a 1962 edition of Hamlet translated by Yves Bonnefoy (724.d.96.3), which is followed by an ‘Idée de la traduction’ including a historical sketch on Shakespeare translations into French. In this sketch, Bonnefoy calls Francois Victor-Hugo’s translation of Henry IV ‘une des plus soigneuses’ – two editions of Hugo’s translations have just recently been donated to the library (one stands at 8001.e.64-80, the other is currently undergoing restoration in the conservation department) by Professor Ruth Morse. Morse writes of the importance of reading and understanding translations of Shakespeare: “… Yet French can do things that English cannot. Translation may preserve what has been lost from the original.” (Ruth Morse. Reflections in Shakespeare Translation. The yearbook of English studies (Vol. 36, No. 1), Translation (2006), pp. 79-89).
18th-century Russian and Polish rulers also tried their hand at Shakespeare translation. Intriguingly and rather surprisingly the two plays translated, with significant adaptation, by Catherine the Great were Merry wives of Windsor (as Vot kakovo imet’ korzinu i bel’e (Now that’s what it is to have a basket and linen)) and Timon of Athens (as Rastochitel’ (The spendthrift)). The first appears in an 1893 single-volume selection of her work (756:7.d.85.4). It can also be found in volume 2 of the major 1901-1907 multi-volume set of Catherine’s collected writings (756:7.c.90.7-10,12-15 (the 6th of the 12 volumes was never published)), of which volume 3 also contains her translation/adaptation of Timon of Athens. The last king of Poland, Stanisław II August, translated the first three scenes of Julius Caesar into French, the language of his court. The Library has a 1925 edition at 758:55.b.90.5 (2nd volume). Initially we thought the Library had none of these texts, but our Slavonic colleagues proved us wrong. They are currently upgrading the existing cataloguing records, which were fairly rudimentary. When we start of writing a blog post, we are never entirely sure where our researches may lead and what extra work may be necessary…