William Shakespeare Should Shakespeare's Work Be Translated  Essay

  • Length: 8 pages
  • Sources: 9
  • Subject: Communication - Language
  • Type: Essay
  • Paper: #98861541
  • Related Topic: Idiom, Hamlet, Mannerism

Excerpt from Essay :

William Shakespeare

Should Shakespeare's Work Be Translated?

Shakespeare has been the lord of writing for centuries. His work, full of wit and puns has not been replaced by any other writer so far. However, the language used in Shakespeare's work has been the reflection of the then literary language which was full of flavor and richness and suited the culture of Western world then. The question is whether Shakespeare retains its meaning when translated into other languages. There are two different schools of thought on this subject. With research, it has been proved that Shakespeare loses its essence when translated in any other language and turns into a mere story with no melody attached to it.

There are two aspects of translating Shakespeare's work; one is converting it into simple English which is the main weapon of the modernizers and the second one is converting it into other regional languages like Urdu, Persian, German, Japanese and Norwegian. Considering the translation into simple English, one needs to accept that English is the unified global language with mutual consensus of many nations agreeing to it as the sole source of communication. In international communication, English acts as the medium. However, one needs to understand whether English is what it was at Shakespeare's times. Literary works retain a closer meaning when translated into a rather modern version of their own language. The reason for doing so is the similar cultural base shared. To be more precise, it is the history and ancient culture which shapes the new society and this is the reason why when translated into modern English, Shakespeare manages to retain some of its meaning.

Here, another question arises: does the flavor and richness of the Shakespeare's work remain intact? Without the twists and symbolic language with suitable gestures and pauses, Shakespeare's work would turn in to a simple story with no real essence and reflection of human behavior. Plain language with dictionary words illustrate the rational meaning of the concerned subject however it must be acknowledged that Shakespeare's work is anything but rationale, it is the reflection of human desires which encompasses the journeys of many. Every character designed by Shakespeare, has a certain axis in which it operates which makes them exhibit a different behavior altogether. In his work, nothing is marked as right or wrong, good or bad; rather the characters are made to be seen as driven by their desires and the circumstances they had to face. On the other hand, usage of modern day language takes away this richness from Shakespeare's work, by defining the character just as "Good or Bad" with no light shed on the factors driving these specific behaviors.

The need for redefining Shakespeare's work emerges from Bardophobia i.e. fear of gravity, which forces the reader to search for a simpler version of what has been taught to them. It is also worthy to be noted that certain words can only be used in specific social settings despite their similar meanings. This is the reason why when one is substituted with other, the contextual reference changes altogether and so does the meaning attached to it. Although English itself has evolved over time but it has yet, failed to provide meanings for everything. Every word has it own distinct essence, and meaning; substitutes cannot replace the word.

Despite the importance of language itself, the writing pattern of Shakespeare needs to be understood well. Shakespeare has a figurative fling attached to his writing. Whatever he wrote often had multiple meanings which not only seem suitable as per situation given but also forces reader to indulge more into reading, using his own instincts to deduce the meaning out of what was written . Mere substitution of words may take this liberty away from the reader.

Considering Hamlet, it can be open challenge for anyone to find a suitable substitute for the echoes of Hamlet's "to be or not to be." Considering the meaning taught in today's classrooms, it is rather easy phrase itself but when it comes to substitution or modern official translation, it is difficult to pick out a phrase reflecting the same meaning with exact finesse. Even singular words quoted from Hamlet, fail to fit into normal language structure as they thrive when used in a particular context accompanied by the suitable words. This can be proved by Shakespeare's use of what's good for the goose is good for the gander. Secondly, in Shakespeare's work many grammatical rules are also violated which seems suitable for the given situation if read in complete context but fail to justify itself when used in a translated version.

Shakespeare's figurative language usage was the main element adding flair to the whole literary work of his. This symbolism seems to be absent in modern day English. This is the reason why when translated, contemporary authors fail to find suitable figures to be replaced with those used by Shakespeare. Resultant is the use of simple words in a rather fluent manner which forms a sequence of understandable sentences, lacking the "Shakespeare's touch" in them. For example, in Hamlet, Shakespeare used oceans of hours as a poetic reference. To be replaced in the Modern English, it is rather difficult to find a phrase with such intensity. An easy substitute is the simple translation "plenty of time." Another simple phrase, "Don't shoot the piano player" describes Shakespeare's command over figurative speech. Where the phrase means do not kill the messenger, the term piano player seems more apparent as per the given context for the information borne by the messenger had the soothing effect on Hamlet as the music can have on him. Therefore, he preferred calling messenger a piano player. A similar example is multifarious monster. Where a translated version would use modern-day words like villain or THE BAD GUY, Shakespeare's selection is far more daunting reflecting the person to be bearer of multifaceted evil talents with sharp dark intelligence (Partridge, 2001).

Shakespeare was the rule breaker of language norms. A simple example is his rich expression in Hamlet. Like This above all: to thine own self be true." (Hamlet - Act 1, Scene 2). In a simple language, it means be true to yourself. However, a thorough analysis would illustrate that it does not matter what you are to others and whether you show them your inner self or not, it is always important that one knows himself, his preferences and desires. Hence, one needs to know himself, irrespective what other think. It is rather difficult to summarize all this richness in a simple phrase if the selection of words is different than the others.

Another example of Shakespeare selection of twisted yet smart phrases is "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." (Hamlet - Act II, Scene II). Where in simple words, it can be said that it is our judgment which explains the rationale for our actions. The meaning is far more extensive than that. What Shakespeare rather meant to say is it is our morals and principles which provide the rationale for our actions. It is our judgment about the action, driven by the situational context which provides the rationale for our actions rather than just the simple social definition of being good or bad.

"Neither a borrower nor a lender be; for loan oft loses both itself and friend." (Hamlet - Act 1, Scene 3). This is another example of the misunderstood phrase of Hamlet. It is easier for the translator to write that one should not lend or borrow from a friend as it can ruin relationships. The meaning expressed by Shakespeare is far deeper than that. What Shakespeare meant was money can act a bone of contention between two friends. Where lending and borrowing has a tendency of ruining relationships, it may make one lose his self-respect and the feeling of self-worth which is inherent to the act of borrowing, giving one person a degree of dominance over the other. "When I saw you I fell in love, and you smiled because you knew. "(Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2). It is also a simple expression but like many Shakespeare's phrases with dual meanings. Smiling because one knows that she is being loved is not the only meaning attached to it (Craig, 1914). Rather it explains that the subject in the scene agrees and surrenders to the affection shown to her. It is the feeling of satisfaction which makes one smile rather than just the acquisition of knowledge (Lu, 2005).

Coming over to regional languages from various cultural backgrounds, translating Shakespeare is altogether a different ball game. Where Modern English is a modification of what Shakespeare has used, meanings of emotions, gestures and words differ greatly in other languages. It is the cultural forces which drive the act of translation and the work of translator becomes even more difficult. In order to prove this point, work of Laura Bohannan can be used. In her attempt of telling Hamlet to West Africans,…

Cite This Essay:

"William Shakespeare Should Shakespeare's Work Be Translated " (2012, August 27) Retrieved August 21, 2017, from

"William Shakespeare Should Shakespeare's Work Be Translated " 27 August 2012. Web.21 August. 2017. <

"William Shakespeare Should Shakespeare's Work Be Translated ", 27 August 2012, Accessed.21 August. 2017,