Page 33 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 14

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B y J
o s h u a
HATEVER position Shakespeare’s writings have attained
in the literatures of the nations into which they have found
their way in the form of translations, one thing is certain, these
translations have gained for themselves an indigenous status. They
have become well entrenched, and serve as models for writers
seeking fame and recognition in many a literature and language.
Most of Shakespeare’s writings were available in practically every
European language before any portion of them was presented to
the Hebrew reader. I t was not until the middle of the nineteenth
century that Hebrew readers were afforded the opportunity to read
Shakespeare in the Holy Tongue. I t was only then that Hebrew
translations first made their appearance. Unlike most other
languages, Hebrew could not claim a rich dramatic literature of
its own; it could not yet point to its own prolific and highly gifted
dramatists whose contributions to twentieth century Hebrew
literature are notable.
Some of the subjects which Shakespeare made his own and
treated so masterfully in his writings are not of the kind which drew
the interest of Hebrew writers prior to the present century. With
but few isolated exceptions, Hebrew literature, until the turn of the
century, seemed determined to tolerate nothing which referred to
the sensual relation between the sexes. Regard for decency may
have hindered any effort to introduce some of Shakespeare’s
writings to the Hebrew reader. Consider, for example, Shakespeare’s
sonnets. They have exerted a profound influence on Saul Tcher-
nichovski and on some of his later contemporaries whose own
sonnets are among the finest in Hebrew literature. No doubt,
directly or indirectly, they influenced other Hebrew poets as well.
They enable one to trace specific circumstances in Shakespeare’s
life. They vividly portray the actual situation and sentiments of
the poet; they acquaint the reader with his passions and contain
remarkable disclosures of his youthful errors. Indeed, they offer a
basis, albeit a meager one, for gossip as to some of his personal
experiences with men and with women.
There are other obstacles, but they are encountered not only by
Hebrew translators of Shakespeare. The translation of his works
into any language presents peculiar problems. Shakespeare’s
classical style and the great difficulty of translating him with