SHAKESPEARE, WILLIAM°


SHAKESPEARE, WILLIAM° (1564–1616), English playwright and poet. The Merchant of Venice (1596) has been claimed as the play in which Shakespeare found himself "in the fullest sense." As with other major comedies of his so-called second period, the main emphasis was to have been on the romantic plot. It is, however, Shylock and the bond story, originally intended as a comic subplot, which has proved to be the actual focus of interest down to the present day. Bassanio requests that his friend Antonio, a merchant, provide him with money for his expedition to Belmont. In order to raise the necessary sum, Antonio takes a loan from the Jewish usurer, Shylock. The latter, instead of demanding interest, suggests a "merry bond," according to which, if Antonio should default, Shylock would be entitled to a pound of flesh nearest to Antonio's heart. Not only does Antonio default but, when the day of payment comes, Shylock's daughter Jessica is found to have eloped with Lorenzo, a friend of Antonio, taking with her a large part of her father's money. Embittered by this double blow – "My ducats and my daughter!" – Shylock demands the "penalty and forfeit" of the bond from Antonio. However, Portia, the Lady of Belmont, disguised as a lawyer, saves the situation, pointing out that the bond does not entitle Shylock to a single drop of blood. Antonio's life is saved, and Shylock himself becomes liable to the confiscation of his whole estate through having sought the life of a citizen of Venice. This penalty is "mercifully" reduced to half, but only on condition that he embraces Christianity.

The mainstream view is that Shylock is the type of the monstrous, bloodthirsty usurer of medieval legend. Gobbo, his comic servant, tells us that his master is "the very devil incarnation," and later, when Shylock appears, one of the characters remarks that the devil "comes in the likeness of a Jew." From time to time Shylock is "demythologized," especially in his famous speech, beginning "I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions?" Many modern critics believe that Shakespeare's depiction of Shylock is much more ambiguous than was previously held, and must be contrasted with the two-dimensional portrayals of Jews in English drama up to that time. Shylock is seen as marking a stage in Shakespeare's evolution as a writer. The Merchant of Venice was probably written three or four years after Richard III, with its unquestionably evil protagonist, and paved the way for the more ambiguous depictions in Shakespeare's later works. Much about The Merchant of Venice poses as yet unanswerable questions: how and where did Shakespeare meet any Jews, since they were legally barred from living in England? Did he visit Venice, which the play describes with the apparent knowledge of an eyewitness? From what source did the name "Shylock," unknown in Jewish usage, derive?

It is generally believed that the trial and execution in 1594 of Queen Elizabeth's *Marrano physician, Rodrigo *Lopez, suggested some features of the Shylock story. This episode provoked a good deal of antisemitic feeling in England at the time.

In England, Edmund Kean's portrayal of Shylock in 1814 was notable for its tragic intensity, while Sir Henry Irving in 1879 acted the part in a radically idealized form, muting the evil qualities of Shylock. The play has often been translated into Hebrew and has been performed in Israel several times. The Merchant of Venice, and Shakespeare's views of Jews, have attracted a wide range of comment and analysis, which have certainly not diminished in recent years. Recent studies of these topics include Martin D. Yaffe, Shylock and the Jewish Question (1997), and James Shapiro, Shakespeare and the Jews (1997). For better or worse, Shylock probably remains the most famous depiction of a Jew in English literature.

[Harold Harel Fisch /

William D. Rubinstein (2nd ed.)]

In Hebrew

Since there is as yet no great dramatic literature in Modern Hebrew literature, there can be no significant discussion of Shakespeare's impact upon it. Scattered traces of Shakespeare's influence, usually through German translations, can be found in the poetry of the Haskalah. Joseph *Ha-Efrati's play about King Saul, Melukhath Sha'ul (Vienna, 1794), shows, in structure and imagery, that its author must have read Macbeth, Hamlet, and King Lear. In Meliẓat Yeshurun (Vienna, 1816), an analysis of the forms of biblical poetry, Solomon Levisohn quotes some lines from Henry IV, Part II, in his own rich, though very inaccurate, prose rendering. The tone, and sometimes the same words, of Lady Macbeth's soliloquy ("Come you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts" etc.) are reproduced in Yael's monologue in Micah Joseph *Lebensohn's epic poem, Ya'el ve-Sisera, written about the middle of the 19th century.

The first translations of Shakespeare into Hebrew, Othello (1874) and Romeo and Juliet (1878), were by Isaac Edward *Salkinson, and remained unsurpassed for at least two generations. Salkinson's translations were done at the insistence of Pereẓ *Smolenskin, the Hebrew novelist and essayist, then editor of the monthly Ha-Shaḥar, published in Vienna. In his foreword to Salkinson's translation of Othello, Smolenskin wrote: "Shakespeare's plays in the Holy Tongue! If all Israel had known and loved the language of their forefathers, and if all those who understand and love Hebrew could comprehend what great prize the translator of these plays has brought into the treasure-house of our language, then indeed would the day on which the first play by Shakespeare appeared in Hebrew become a victory celebration!" Salkinson rendered Shakespeare into strong, lucid, biblical Hebrew writing in free verse of 13 to 16–17 syllables) which did justice to the poetry and dramatic power of the original. Salkinson's isolated achievement appears the greater when set against the background of the florid, padded, imprecise Hebrew style prevailing in Hebrew letters at the time.

In his introduction to Romeo and Juliet, Salkinson identified the vulgar speech of the uneducated and the clever, facetious, sometimes multilingual, prattle of the well-born, as the major pitfalls which faced him as a translator. To this day, these remain among the major difficulties in translating Shakespeare into Hebrew. In the two decades that followed the publication of Salkinson's work, only three translations appeared: L. Barb's very weak rendering of Macbeth (1883), done from Schiller's free and at times distorted German translation; Z. Elkind's translation of The Taming of the Shrew (1893), and S.L. *Gordon's translation of King Lear (1899). A quarter of a century elapsed before David *Frischmann's translation of Coriolanus (1924) appeared. Frischmann, a most gifted translator, rendered the play entirely within the frame of biblical syntax and idiom. Following the same tradition is H.J. Bornstein's translation of Hamlet (1926), which first appeared in serial in the newspaper Ha-Ẓefirah in 1900. The use of biblical Hebrew in rendering Shakespeare reached perhaps its peak in Ḥ.N. *Bialik's translation of the first act of Julius Caesar (1929). Done from a Russian translation while containing most of the merits of that tradition, it falls short of an adequate rendering of the Shakespearean idiom. Marking the transition toward a freer idiom, where spoken Hebrew is reflected in a predominantly biblical syntax, are Simon *Halkin's translation of The Merchant of Venice (1929), the first Shakespeare translation by an American Hebrew poet, and Saul *Tchernichowsky's translation of Twelfth Night, which was in Habimah's repertoire when it came to Tel Aviv from Moscow in 1931. In the succeeding years, American Hebrew poets produced a number of translations: E. *Lisitzky translated Julius Caesar (1933) and The Tempest (1941); B.N. *Silkiner, Macbeth (1939); Israel Ephros, Hamlet (1944), Timon of Athens (1953), and Coriolanus (1959); Simon Halkin, King John (1947); and Hillel *Bavli, Antony and Cleopatra (1948). Translators with an American background who settled in Palestine included: R. *Avinoam (Grossman), who translated King Lear (1944), Antony and Cleopatra (1947), and Romeo and Juliet (1959); and Harry (Zvi) Davidovich, who translated Hamlet (1942), A Midsummer Night's Dream (1943), The Winter's Tale (1945), and Macbeth (1946). Although these men had a better knowledge of English than their predecessors (with the sole exception of Salkinson), most of them suffered from a lack of contact with the sound of spoken Hebrew, and from the fact that they wrote in the old penultimate syllable meter. A few of these translators scanned in accordance with the accent of spoken Hebrew, but most of their efforts were of inferior quality.

It became obvious that more accurate and idiomatic translations would be produced only by writers who were in contact with the Hebrew-speaking community in Ereẓ Israel, and who were responsive to the increasing demands of the Hebrew theater. Several translations done in the 1940s and 1950s, though highly flawed (some were done from Russian and German translations, or by writers with an incomplete knowledge of English), achieved considerable success in blending classical Hebrew diction with the sound of everyday speech. At their best, they combined the poetical, the idiomatic, and the vulgar without offending the historic character of the language. The pioneers in this endeavor were Abraham *Shlonsky, Hamlet (1945) and King Lear (1955), and Nathan *Alterman, Merry Wives of Windsor (1946), Othello (1950), Julius Caesar (1958), and Anthony and Cleopatra (1965). They were followed by Raphael Eliaz, The Taming of the Shrew (1954), Romeo and Juliet (1957), Twelfth Night (1960), Richard the Third, and Henry the Fourth (1961); Lea *Goldberg, As You Like It (1957); and T. Carmi, A Midsummer Night's Dream (1964). Ephraim *Broido's translation of Macbeth appeared in 1954, followed by translations of The Tempest, Much Ado about Nothing, A Midsummer Night's Dream (all in 1964), and Comedy of Errors (1965). In 1971 he completed his translation of Shakespeare's sonnets. The sonnets had been previously translated by Shin *Shalom in 1943. I.J. Schwarz had published ten of the sonnets in Ha-Tekufah (XVIII) in 1923.

[Ephraim Broido]

In Yiddish

The earliest attempt to render Shakespeare into Yiddish appears to be Bezalel Vishnepolsky's naive prose version of Julius Caesar (1886). In the 1890s, the American Yiddish theater, influenced by English-language Broadway productions of Shakespeare's great tragedies, staged a number of his plays in incompetent translations, generally from the German. It was Jacob *Gordin who, with his highly effective melodrama Der Yidisher Kenig Lir ("The Jewish King Lear," 1892), permanently linked the Yiddish repertoire to Shakespeare, thus initiating a stream of adaptations and borrowings from the great playwright's plots. Gordin's play, essentially very Jewish, is on the theme of generational conflict; similarly, child-parent conflict is the substance of Gordin's Mirele Efros (1898), whose original subtitle was "The Jewish Queen Lear." The Shakespearean element in these plays is slight, as is also the case with the Romeo and Juliet echoes in Gordin's Di Litvishe Brider Lurye ("The Lithuanian Luria Brothers," 1894), Isidor Zolotorevsky's Der Yeshive Bokher oder Der Yidisher Martirer ("The Seminarian or The Jewish Martyr," 1899) and Leon *Kobrin's Der Blinder Muzikant oder Yidisher Otelo ("The Blind Musician or Jewish Othello," first staged 1903). Maurice *Schwartz provided a Judaized version of The Merchant of Venice in his 1947 dramatization of Ari ibn Zahav's Hebrew novel, Shaylok ha-Sokher mi-Venetsia ("Shylock, the Merchant of Venice").

During the first two decades of the 20th century, Shakespeare's plays were frequently acted on the Yiddish stage in both Europe and the U.S. By and large the productions suffered from inept translations, bombastic delivery, and general artistic immaturity. With the development of the Yiddish art theater movement, this situation altered radically. In 1929, in the U.S., Maurice *Schwartz produced Othello in Mark Shweid's translation, and in the same year in Poland, Michael *Weichert directed an impressive Merchant of Venice, translated by the poet Israel Stern. In 1938 the Polish director L. Schiller staged The Tempest in Aaron *Zeitlin's translation, with the noted A. *Morewsky playing Prospero. The greatest of all Shakespeare productions in Yiddish was the Moscow Jewish State Theater's King Lear of 1935, with the translation by the poet Shmuel *Halkin. The leading role was played by Solomon *Mikhoels, and the fool's role by the great comic actor, Benjamin Zuskin.

Good translations made serious Yiddish productions of Shakespeare possible in the 1930s. The first "literary" translation of Shakespeare into Yiddish was the work of the young anarchist poet Joseph *Bovshover, whose Merchant of Venice (1899) marks an advance. The poet I.J. *Schwartz was more successful with his Hamlet and Julius Caesar (1918), and, in the Soviet Union, I. *Goldberg produced nine workmanlike translations (1933–38). Ber *Lapin's translation of the Sonnets (1953) also merits mention. It is in the theatrical rather than the literary realm that Shakespeare in Yiddish has enjoyed a full and varied life. Joel Berkowitz has shown that "[t]he ways in which Yiddish playwrights and actors in the United States re-imagined Shakespeare's plays had far-reaching implications for the American Yiddish theater." And that theater was important to immigrant American Jews.

The unlikely conjunction "Shakespeare" and "Yiddish" crops up in unsuspected places. Steve Suissa's film Le Grand Role (2004) gave central plot significance to a planned Yiddish adaptation of The Merchant of Venice. Concerning Michael Radford's film, The Merchant of Venice (2004), Sam Sokolove wrote: "Al Pacino… gives us a fully Yiddish Shylock" (San Diego City Beat, Apr. 27, 2005); Richard von Busack (Metroactive Movies, Jan. 12, 2005) also saw Pacino's Shylock as Yiddish-flavored. Anniversary occasions surrounding the almost legendary Solomon Mikhoels inevitably stimulate references to his famed King Lear production in the Moscow Yiddish Art Theater in 1935.

[Leonard Prager]

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

L. Prager, in: Shakespeare Quarterly, 19:2 (Spring, 1968), 149–63, includes bibliography; Z. Zylbercweig, in: Ikkuf Almanakh 1967, ed. by N. Meisel (1967), 327–46; M.J. Landa, The Jew in Drama (19692), 70–85, index; G. Friedlander, Shakespeare and the Jew (1921); J.L. Cardozo, Contemporary Jew in the Elizabethan Drama (1925), 207–53; T. Lelyveld, Shylock on the Stage (1961), index; S.A. Tannenbaum, Shakspeare's The Merchant of Venice, a Concise Bibliography (1941); M. Roston (ed.), Ha-Olam ha-Shekspiri (1965); M. Halevy, in: Jewish Quarterly (Spring, 1966), 3–7; (Winter, 1966), 10–16; J. Bloch, in: JBA, 14 (1956/57), 23–31. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: J. Berkowitz, Gained in Translation: Shakespeare on the American Yiddish Stage (2002); D. Abend-David, "Scorned My Nation," A Comparison of Translations of the Merchant of Venice into German, Hebrew and Yiddish (2003); J. Gross, Shylock: Four Hundred Years in the Life of a Legend (1992); J.M. Landau, Studies in the Arab Theater and Cinema (1958), index.


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.