Page 43 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 14

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BORAISHA-FOGEL---- SHAKESPEARE IN YIDDISH
33
original has the advantage of being able to savor the flavor of the
archaisms, plus their interpretation in the glossary.
Joseph Bovshover’s translation of the
Merchant of Venice
, which
he calls
Shylock
, is an outstanding event in Yiddish literature,
because it is the first Yiddish translation of a Shakespearean
drama. In addition, it is a literary work of high calibre that can
stand alone as a drama in Yiddish.
Bovshover and his predecessors, David Edelstadt and Morris
Rosenfeld, were the first important Yiddish writers to function on
American soil. They appeared at the close of the 19th century,
when the major Yiddish literary centers were still in Poland and in
Russia. Bovshover was born in Poland in 1872 and emigrated to
America in 1890. Highly gifted and versatile, he wrote both in
Yiddish and in English. He would have become one of our foremost
poets; but in 1899, the year
Shylock
was published, he was com-
mitted to an institution for the mentally ill. There he remained,
completely withdrawn, his pen forever silenced, until his death
in 1916.
In a preface, which is an eloquent tribute to Shakespeare’s
compassion and humaneness, Bovshover denies Shakespeare’s
alleged malevolence towards Jews. He avers that it was Shake-
speare’s intent to paint Shylock as a tragic portraiture, not as
the harsh and intolerant caricature seen by 16th century England:
the pitiless money-lender, fawning and wily. Shakespeare under-
stood whence came the stooped back, the seeming cringing meek-
ness, and the proud and anguished spirit which revolted against
its tormentors. Reacting to his own profound concern for the
oppressed, Bovshover sees the main theme of
Shylock
as a vigorous
condemnation of tyranny. Having himself suffered degradation
and disappointment in public and private life, Shakespeare invents
Shylock’s revolt as a literary instrument to give vent to his
poignant heartache and to his personal feeling of bitterness.
Bovshover’s Yiddish version is an absorbing, swiftly-moving
drama. Although it was never produced, one can readily imagine
it on the boards.
The orthography and many expressions are German: words such
as
herz
,
diesen
, and the like, which were freely used in Bovshover’s
time. This orthography is, however, hardly an impediment to the
modern reader. The eye and the mind skim past it, mainly because
Bovshover’s general sentence structure is modern and not dis-
torted. One might demand here and there a whit more tautness
in phrasing and a bit more subtlety in nuance, for the Germanic
influence creates a looseness and floridity which modern Yiddish
style has abandoned. But this is the manner in which Bovshover
wrote his own poetry. I t is not a case of carelessness or indifference.