Saturday, March 17, 2012

"War after war! Where are all our men?"

Check out RSC Associate Director Deborah Shaw's eloquent piece on Romeo and Juliet in Baghdad, the play created by her husband Monadhil Daood for the RSC's upcoming World Shakespeare Festival.
I'm looking forward to seeing it in May.  Here is Shaw's argument about intercultural appropriation:
At home I am often asked about the foreign-language productions that will be performed during the festival. A common question is: “How do they cope with Shakespeare’s complex language?” I wonder if there is an expectation inherent in the question that they will produce beautiful, literary translations, which will stay as close as possible to the original text. Do we expect them to perform close approximations of British productions, but in foreign clothes? Because they won’t.
Serious artists encounter Shakespeare as a playwright, his work to be transplanted and made sense of through the prism of a different reality and set of culture references. They tell the Shakespeare story they are compelled to tell, appropriating characters, narrative, moral dilemmas, symbolism and themes in a way that, I would argue, embodies the true dramatic spirit of Shakespeare.
What she describes is still a one-to-one encounter (which is what an RSC commission might tend to produce) rather than what I've been calling a national or regional "Shakespeare tradition."  But I find this an attractive and convincing statement of how any "serious artist" (including an Anglophone one) would approach the task of adapting or even producing Shakespeare.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Grammar of "Being"

From an article in the Dartmouth campus paper describing a fun recent event on campus:

Profs. reconsider Hamlet’s dilemma

That Hamlet’s famous dilemma of “to be or not to be” resists translation across languages is a result of linguistic, cultural and social differences, elements discussed by professors from the Asian and Middle Eastern languages and literatures department at Wednesday’s colloquium, “To Be or Not To Be, That is the Question: The Problematics of ‘Being’ in Arabic, Chinese, Hebrew and Japanese.”
The four languages represented in the lecture are characterized by contradicting conceptions of grammar, time, religion and philosophy that all diverge from those of English. The difficulty in translating the phrase lies not only in verbal conversion but also in fundamental differences between each culture’s conceptualization of life, according to the panelists.
Professors Kamal Abu-Deeb, Sarah Allan, James Dorsey and Lewis Glinert represented the Arabic, Chinese, Japanese and Hebrew departments, respectively.
Sounds like a great way to advertise a language department. (Though my favorite grammatical fact about Arabic in this context - that it has no infinitive form - was not mentioned.)