Reference > Cambridge History > The Drama to 1642, Part One > Shakespeare on the Continent > Introduction of Shakespeare into other lands, chiefly through French or German Translations
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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume V. The Drama to 1642, Part One.

XII. Shakespeare on the Continent.

§ 26. Introduction of Shakespeare into other lands, chiefly through French or German Translations.


The question of Shakespeare’s influence and appreciation in continental lands, other than France and Germany, is, necessarily, one of minor interest. The Latin peoples followedmore or less in the footsteps of France, the Germanic peoples of the north of Europe in those of Germany. What Italy knew of Shakespeare in the eighteenth century, as has been shown, was drawn exclusively from Voltaire, and the same is true of Spain; and both countries made their first acquaintance with the poet as an acted dramatist through the medium of the multilated French versions by Ducis. The real work of translating and studying Shakespeare was not begun in either land until the nineteenth century. A translation of Shakespeare’s tragedies into Italian verse by Michele Leoni was published at Pisa in 1814–5; this was followed by the complete works in Italian prose by Carlo Rusconi (1831), and selected plays by the Milanese poet, Giulio Carcani (1857–9), ultimately increased to a complete edition (1874–82). Spain, on the other hand, has had to wait until comparatively recently for satisfactory translations of Shakespeare’s works. Considering the kinship between Shakespeare and the masters of the Spanish drama—a kinship which Germans recognised at an early date—it seems strange that Spaniards should have been thus late in showing a curiosity about the English poet. It should be added that Italy has contributed in no small degree to the interpretation and popularisation of the greater tragedies by the impersonations of Salvini and Rossi, of Adelaide Ristori and Eleanora Duse, while Italian music has drawn extensively on Shakespeare for the subjects of operas.   35
  It is only natural to find in Germanic lands a more intense interest in Shakespeare, and a higher development in the translation and interpretation of his works. Here, the influence of Germany is paramount. Even Holland, which, at an earlier stage, had been immediately influenced by England, fell back ultimately almost wholly on German sources. The difficulty of naturalising English drama in languages like Dutch, Danish and Swedish is more subtle than appears at first glance; there was no want of interest or will at a comparatively early period, but Shakespeare’s language and style presented obstacles that were not easy to surmount. This aspect of the question did not concern Latin peoples in the same degree for the only method of translation which the genius of their tongues allowed them to follow was to bend and adapt Shakespeare to their own style. But, as has been seen in the case of German itself, where Wieland first succeeded in overcoming the difficulty of creating a language and style suited to Shakespeare, and where Schlegel first made the German tongue “Shakespeare-ripe,” this initial problem was a serious one. Just as the south of Europe learned from Voltaire, Ducis and Talma, so Holland and Scandinavia learned the art of translating Shakespeare from Wieland and Schlegel, and the art of playing him from Schröder. Between 1780 and the end of the century, more than a dozen dramas had appeared in Dutch, but it was late in the nineteenth century before Holland possessed satisfactory and complete translations, namely, those by Abraham Kok (1873–80) and Leendert Burgersdijk (1884–8). What happened in Hamburg in 1777 virtually repeated itself in Copenhagen in 1813, that is to say, Shakespeare first won a firm footing on the Danish stage with Hamlet. The translator was the actor Peter Foersom, who was naturally influenced strongly by Schröder. At his death in 1817, he had published four volumes of what was intended to be a complete translation of Shakespeare, and it was completed at a later date by Peter Wulff and Edvard Lembcke. The chief Swedish translation of Shakespeare’s works is that by Carl August Hagberg (12 volumes, 1847–51). Scandinavia’s contribution to Shakespearean literature is much more important than that of Holland; mention need only be made here of the admirable Swedish life of Shakespeare by Henrik Schück (1883), and William Shakespeare (1895) by the inexhaustible Danish critic Georg Brandes. The latter work, in spite of a desire to reconstruct Shakespeare’s life and surroundings on insufficient materials, is, unquestionably, one of the most suggestive biographies of the poet.   36
  In Russia and Poland, the interest in Shakespeare is no less great than in the more western countries of Europe. Here, the influence of France seems to have predominated in the earlier period, Ducis introducing the English poet to the Russian and the Polish stage. Several plays were translated into Russian in the eighteenth century, and the empress Catherine II had a share in adaptations of The Merry Wives of Windsor and Timon. The standard Russian translation is that of Gerbel (1865). In Poland, where Shakespeare is a favourite dramatist both with actors and public, the best translationis that edited by the poet Józef Ignacy Kraszewski (1875). Reference must be made, in conclusion, to the great interest which Hungarians have always shown in the English poet, and the powerful influence he has exerted on their literature. A very high rank among translations of Shakespeare is claimed for those by the eminent poet Charles Kisfaludy, especially for that of Julius Caesar.   37

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