Monday, 27 February 2012

Shakespeare in German



Shakespeare is quintissentially English, no? After all, he was born and died on St. George's Day, and introduced around 1,700 new words to the English language. But Shakespeare's legacy is worldwide, and his works have been translated into, and performed in, over 90 languages. Not least was Shakespeare a favorite of the early German Romantik 'Sturm und Drang' movement, to whom he was an inspirational genius who showed a way out of the creatively tired mire that drama and literature had found itself through adherence to the ideals of Greek 'eternal verities'. Or to put it another way, 18th century neoclassical theatre (mainly French) was becoming old hat and boooriing, whereas Shakespeare's mixing of comedy and tragedy, of high and low litearture, of potraying Royals and artisans on the same stage, well it was all a shot in the arm that Western  European culture needed. German translations and performances quickly ensued, and his model of expression was held up as an authentic folk-based art-form that would eventually lead the Romatiks into forging their own 'authentic' Germanic culture and sense of nationalism.

Shakespeare in German translation provides an opportunity in reinterpreting his work that is missed by English audiences. We have to sit through plays still performed in Elizabethan English, which can be quite difficult for us to comprehend and indeed puts a lot of people off appreciating Shapespeare's plays. German audiences however have the benfit of experiencing a performance in modern Hochdeutsch, and the translator can bring out nuances that pass English speakers by.

Here are a handful of Shakespeare's more familiar lines re-interpreted into German, but be aware that the exact wording differs from translation to translation:

Die Art der Gnade weiß von keinem Zwang. - Der Kaufmann von Venedig
The quality of mercy is not strain'd. - Merchant of Venice

Alles ist nicht Gold, was gleißt
Wie man oft euch unterweist. - Der Kaufmann von Venedig

All that glitters is not gold;
Often have you heard that told. - Merchant of Venice


The German translation means more of the sense 'how often you have been instructed (or trained) that it's not always gold, that which glitters.'

Wenn ihr uns stecht, bluten wir nicht? Wenn ihr uns kitzelt, lachen wir nicht? Wenn ihr uns vergiftet, sterben wir nicht? Und wenn ihr uns beleidigt, sollen wir uns nicht rächen? - Der Kaufmann von Venedig
If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? - Merchant of Venice

Apart from the discovery that 'kitzeln' is the verb to tickle someone, I like the better meaning of 'beleidigt' = 'offend', i.e. a perceived, subjective snub rather than an objective, legal 'do us wrong'.

Wenn Musik die Nahrung der Liebe ist, so spielt fort. - Was ihr wollt
If Musicke be the food of Love, play on - Twelfth Night or What You Will.

I like the use of 'Nahrung' here as emphasising 'nourishment and sustenance' rather than just stuff you put in your face.

Was ist ein Name? Was uns Rose heißt,
Wie es auch hieße, würde lieblich duften;- Romeo und Julia

What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet; - Rome and Juliet


Zum Teufel beider Sippschaft! - Romeo und Julia
A plague on both your houses! - Romeo and Juliet

Or in German 'To the Devil (or to Hell) with both clans!'

So süß ist Trennungswehe. - Romeo und Julia
Parting is such sweet sorrow. - Romeo and Juliet

A great word there 'Trennungswehe', which could be usefully absorbed into the English language. It means 'the woe of parting', where 'woe' (Wehe) is a physical pain (die Wehe can also mean a labour contraction).

O Romeo, Romeo, warum bist du Romeo? - Romeo und Julia
O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo? - Romeo and Juliet

I like the German translation of this because it uses the word 'warum' = 'why', and not 'wo' = 'where' as many English speakers might interpret the line. In context though it is definitely 'why' - 'why are you a Montague?', a member of the rival family, which means she cannot be allowed to love him. To be honest though, 'wherefore art thou' has a wondeful old-fashioned floweryness to my mind that the direct German lacks.

Mitbürger, Freunde, Römer hört mich an: ... - Julius Cäsar
Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears ... - Julius Caesar

In German 'Fellow citizens, friends, Romans, listen to me!'. Not as poetic as 'lend me your ears', but 'Mitbürger' = fellow citizens (and in first place) sounds more intimate and meaningful than the more abstract 'coutrymen'.

Mord rufen und des Krieges Hund’ entfesseln. - Julius Cäsar
Cry, ’Havoc!’ and let slip the dogs of war. - Julius Caesar

The German translation cries for 'murder' - homicide - rather than just a bit of chaos.

Brutus, auch du? - Julius Cäsar
Et tu, Brute? - Julius Caesar

As it is in Latin, I don't know why the German translations don't just keep this famous phrase as it is. But it does show the common, friendly-term, meaning of 'tu' and 'du' that English has lost.

Die ganze Welt ist Bühne
Und alle Fraun und Männer bloße Spieler. - Wie es euch gefällt

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players. - As You Like It


Der Narr hält sich für weise, aber der Weise weiß, dass er ein Narr ist.- Wie es euch gefällt
The Foole doth thinke he is wise, but the wiseman knowes himselfe to be a Foole. - As You Like It.

Es gibt mehr Ding' im Himmel und auf Erden,
Als Eure Schulweisheit sich träumt, Horatio. - Hamlet, Prinz von Dänemark

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. - Hamlet, Prince of Denmark


The German word 'Schulweisheit' means more like 'school-book learning' or 'erudition' rather than the rather fuzzy 'philosophy'.

Die Dame, wie mich dünkt, gelobt zu viel. - Hamlet, Prinz von Dänemark
The Lady doth protest too much, methinks. - Hamlet

Interesting use of 'gelobt' - from 'geloben' meaning to vow or plight something - rather than a direct translation of 'protest'. In English, the modern use of 'protest' is 'to object to something', but in Shakespeare's time it meant to make a solemn oath or vow. Nowadays the phrase is misquoted and misused as 'methinks the lady doth protest too much'. In the context of Hamlet, it is evident that Queen Gertrude means it in the sense of that the queen in the play is over-stating her oaths of loyalty to her first husband (in the play) to such an extent that it looks like artifice. Ironically of course, without giving too much away the plot of Hamlet.

Etwas ist faul im Staate Dänemark! - Hamlet, Prinz von Dänemark
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark! - Hamlet


Sein oder Nichtsein, das ist hier die Frage. - Hamlet, Prinz von Dänemark
To be, or not to be: that is the question. - Hamlet

I like how in German you can easily create a noun out of the verb 'sein' = 'to be', and then put 'nicht' = 'not' in front of it to make it an opposite noun 'das Nichtsein' = 'a thing that is not-being'.

Noch einmal stürmt, noch einmal, liebe Freunde! - König Heinrich V
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more! - Henry V

Rather boringly, 'stürmt' is from 'stürmen' = 'to attack' or 'to storm', and has none of the sense of filling the breach in the city walls of Harfleur with English dead.

Das erste, was wir tun, laßt uns alle Anwälte töten! - König Heinrich VI
The first thing we do, let's kill all the Lawyers! - Henry VI

Doppelt plagt euch, mengt und mischt!
Kessel brodelt, Feuer zischt. - Macbeth

Double, double toil and trouble
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble. - Macbeth

Literally: 'doubled troubles, mixed and blended / cauldron bubble, fire sizzle'. Or something like that.

Mich jucken die Daumen sehr,
Etwas Böses kommt daher. - Macbeth

By the pricking of my thumbs,
something wicked this way comes. - Macbeth

Fort, verdammter Fleck, fort, sag ich! - Macbeth
Out damned spot! out, I say! - Macbeth

Leben ist nur ein wandelnd Schattenbild,
Ein armer Komödiant, der spreizt und knirscht
Sein Stündchen auf der Bühn und dann nicht mehr
Vernommen wird; ein Märchen ist's, erzählt
Von einem Blöden, voller Klang und Wut,
Das nichts bedeutet. - Macbeth

Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing. - Macbeth

Nun ward der Winter unsers Mißvergnügens
Glorreicher Sommer durch die Sonne Yorks; - Die Tragödie von König Richard III

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this son of York. - The Tragedy of King Richard III

Interesting that Shakespeare's pun of 'son' and 'sun' has not been maintained, and yet 'Sohn' and 'Sonne' don't sound that dissimilar. But without the exact homonym, 'Sonne' does make more sense to the sentance (i.e. the Sun making a Winter into Summer) whilst still preserving the symbolism of the Sun being the symbol of the House of York.

Ein Pferd, ein Pferd, mein Königreich für ein Pferd! - Die Tragödie von König Richard III
A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse! - The Tragedy of King Richard III

Ich bin ein Mensch, gegen den man mehr gesündigt hat, als er sündigt. - König Lear
I am a man more sinn’d against than sinning. - King Lear

Wir sind aus solchem Stoff wie Träume sind,
und unser kleines Leben ist von einem Schlaf umringt. - Der Sturm

We are such stuff as dreams are made on, 
and our little life is rounded with a sleep. - The Tempest

Die Welt ist meine Auster. - Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor
The world's mine oyster. - Merry Wives of Windsor

Die Kurs der wahren Liebe nie reibungslos. - Ein Sommernachtstraum
The course of true love never did run smooth. - Midsummer Nights Dream




1 comment:

  1. so interesting! And you know what is really really embarrassing? I study theatre and English and till now never thought about the special chance foreign speakers get through different translations...have to think about that now :-)

    ReplyDelete

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