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Translating Shakespeare

There are several words and phrases in whichever language you choose that can never be translated as accurately as you want. Let’s take for example the Filipino word “kilig”, how are we to translate this to foreigners? We would usually say that it’s a feeling when you see your crush or someone you like, but does it really explain how we Filipinos understand ‘kilig’?  My friend and I were trying to explain this to a foreign exchange classmate of ours and the best way my friend could explain it was “It’s the feeling when you pee”. She was trying to describe that feeling as if you had butterflies in your stomach. It might have been really funny for that foreigner but our explanations made sense to us.

William Shakespeare is widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language. So what happens when we try to translate his works? How should the audience appreciate this new version?

It is normal to translate works in different languages, especially works of William Shakespeare. But I can only imagine the difficulty of translating them. Since there is no vernacular or the one-is-to-one translation, translators attempt to stick to the original by capturing the essence of what the person said. Directors and writers compensate due to the lack of vernacular by playing up certain scenes. Shakespeare’s literature though is so transcendent, that it can cross several cultures and still have that powerful effect as if it was written in his language. It takes appreciation in the arts to be able to see the intricacy that is put in every production of Shakespeare’s play. Shakespeare has always been known not only for his works but also for his language, but today, Shakespeare is more than just the words we hear. The pleasure of watching his works no longer only depends on the verbal, but also the deep passion and emotions that flow through the characters— whether it is in a language you understand or not.

Last April 21, 2012, the Globe theatre presented an unprecedented program of multi-lingual Shakespeare productions as part of a once-in-a lifetime celebration for the London 2012 festival. Revealing in the vast array of communities and languages that make-up London’s vibrant cultural landscape, 37 international companies presented every one of Shakespeare’s plays in a different language over six weeks[1] 

“It has long been recognised that Shakespeare, as well as a great playwright, has become an international language. We want to celebrate this international affection by welcoming Shakespeare enthusiasts – producers, performers and audiences – to experience his work in their own languages and dialects. says Dominic Dromgoole, the Globe’s artistic director, as it is reported the BBC News website.”[2]


“Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre: Globe to Glove festival trailer.”



Categories: Multimedia Essays
  1. tomgoodstudent
    October 12, 2012 at 10:48 pm

    How interesting! I’ve only seen Shakespeare performed in English and Tagalog. It would certainly be an experience to see how it would be performed in another language.

  2. October 13, 2012 at 6:59 am

    Yeah i agree, it would be quite something to experience Shakespeare in a totally different language. I think most people in the world have just heard Shakespeare in English and/or their own native tongue, they overlook the interesting fact that Shakespeare has been translated and is being performed in so many other various languages.

  3. usedtoliveinstaana
    October 14, 2012 at 4:03 pm

    this article reminds me of my deepest respect and admiration for Rolando S. Tinio’s masterful, genius Filipino translations of Shakespeare’s plays. He translated as if Shakespeare learned how to right in Filipino. And I do sincerely believe that translating Shakespeare in one’s local language will only help the language expand its repertoire of modes of expression. If only universities studied Tinio’s use of Filipino in order to accommodate Shakespeare’s sublime language, we would learn how to value our local language more than ever.

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