Page 34 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 14

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
24
fidelity present an insuperable obstacle to his widespread circula-
tion. (It must not, however, be supposed that a literal translation
can ever be a faithful one.) A comparative examination of transla-
tions of
Julius Caesar
,
Hamlet
,
Macbeth
, and
Antony and Cleopatra
,
each of which is represented by three different Hebrew versions,
reveals the extent of the inherent difficulties which confronted
their respective translators. Each translator presents a version so
different from the other as to betray a measure of inadequacy in
the performance of his task. This accounts partly for the fact that
translations of Shakespeare’s writings in Hebrew and, for that
matter, also in Yiddish, were made first from German versions
which seemed less formidable to the translators than the original
English texts. I t is a noteworthy phenomenon in the history of
German literature that warm hospitality was accorded all of
Shakespeare’s writings in translation. They were, so to speak,
enthusiastically adopted in the literature of the German people.
There was yet another reason which may, at least partly, account
for the scant interest in Shakespeare on the part of Hebrew writers.
I t was the fact that translators, who introduced into Hebrew
literature versions of classical writings in various western lit-
eratures, were often attracted to works containing biblical themes,
episodes and characters. These could hardly be found in Shake-
speare’s writings, although biblical references are not altogether
lacking.
If the Hebrew language can not yet boast of translations of
everything the Shakespearean literary legacy bequeathed to Eng-
lish literature, it is because there has not yet appeared the gifted
and dedicated translator who would undertake the entire task
with the persistence, skill and talent required for its execution.
Such an assignment is quite difficult. Many of Shakespeare’s
rhymes are faultless, ingenious with attractive ease and rich
without false brilliancy. The songs interspersed in his plays are
generally tuneful and altogether musical, and an awareness of
their melody is evoked merely by reading them. All this presents a
challenge to the translator. Most of the Hebrew translators of
Shakespeare’s works were poets. They were masters of the Hebrew
tongue but could not always capture the original effect in the
language they chose as their medium to reproduce the great
poet’s texts.
I t is reported that August Wilhelm Schlegel once spoke of
Shakespeare as “a correct poet.” How true! No translation of his
writings could be adequate unless executed by “ a correct poet.”
I t is for this reason that the most successful Hebrew versions of
Shakespeare are those which have been produced by the gifted
poets in the present century and especially by those who have