To Be, or Not to Be? Depends on the Translation

Kyle Kaplan ’15

Arts Editor 

Beginning Friday, March 7,and concluding on Sunday, March 9, Shakespeare connoisseurs from all over the world gathered at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. UMass’s first international Shakespeare conference, entitled “International Shakespeare: Translation, Adaptation, and Performance,” invited students from the Five Colleges for three days of panels and discussions.

Addressed were the ways in which translation can affect the meanings of Shakespeare’s plays. Ashlynn August ’15, an aspiring archivist, found the conference’s last panel particularly relevant to her studies at Smith: “One of the panelists talked a lot about digital archives. These can make primary historical documents accessible to people all over the world.” She went on to say, “Since I work with digital archives, it was interesting to hear [how] this affects scholarship on Shakespeare.”

This last panel, chaired by UMass professors Anna-Claire Simpson and Alison Bowie, was comprised of two panelists. Each presented a paper on how contemporary audiences experience Shakespeare, depending on either its translation or the form in which it is introduced to them. Professor Gabriele Blaikner-Hohenwart of the University of Salzburg, Austria, was the first to speak: her paper, “On the Reception of ‘Macbeth’: Ionesco’s ‘Macbett’,” emphasized on how current productions of “Macbeth” are adapting its plot. Plays such as “Sleep No More”, an interactive performance in New York, use the story of “Macbeth” – but not the lines. In fact, the actors are silent the entire time. “It focuses specifically on performative aspects,” Blaikner-Hohenwart said. “Sleep No More” is set in a block of warehouses renamed the McKittrick Hotel; scenes from “Macbeth” take place in its various rooms, and because the audience can explore at will, each member will essentially leave with their own version of “Macbeth.”

The next panelist to speak, Professor Shreyosi Mukherjee of the National University of Singapore, presented her paper, “Digitized Shakespeare and Networked Histories: Studying an Online Archive, War Memories and the New ‘Knowledgescape’,” over Skype. A research scholar at the Asian Shakespeare Intercultural Archive, Mukherjee observed that digital archives are “extensions of our everyday lives.” Analyzing the relationship between war experiences and certain themes in Shakespeare’s plays, she explained how online archives grant those who have survived wars critical tools for identification in well-known narratives. Mukherjee also talked about how Shakespeare classics like “Romeo and Juliet” can be staged for a Singaporean audience because of the efforts of digital archivists: “The digital archivist creates an avenue for making meaning for plays like ‘Romeo and Juliet’ that were not previously possible.”

August said she appreciated how the conference, which was free for Five College students, gave her the opportunity to hear the opinions of Shakespeare scholars from different countries. She explained, “It was interesting to hear how Shakespeare is being studied in other parts of the world, not just America. It was also interesting to think how the cathartic value of plays like ‘Romeo and Juliet’ or ‘Hamlet’ [differs] from culture to culture. ” As this conference provided insight into the work of Shakespeare scholars today, we can hope it is only the first of many.

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