Academic journal article Multicultural Shakespeare

Hamlet in Slovenia: From Myth to Theatre

Academic journal article Multicultural Shakespeare

Hamlet in Slovenia: From Myth to Theatre

Article excerpt


Hamlet is one of the very few works of the global literary canon that have been translated into Slovene more than once. There are four complete published translations of the play, as well as several adaptations. Each translator was an important figure in Slovene literature and/or literary translation, the translations were often widely discussed, and at least three of them marked the beginning and the end of an era.

Hamlet, and with it Shakespeare, truly arrived in Slovenia only about a century ago when the first complete translations were staged in the emerging Slovene theatres. But the play immediately engaged the Slovene expert public, who felt the wait had been much too long. Over the following decades it won over general audiences as well, to the point where it was called "a true Slovene folk play" by one of its translators, a leading theatre figure of his time. Although its almost mythological status dwindled to that of a mere classic after a while, it did, as a true folk play should, accompany the Slovene audience through all crucial periods in the recent history of the nation: it was the first play staged after World War I, the last before the theatres closed for World War II, it was on during the critical season of 1947/48 when Yugoslavia broke with the USSR, and again in 1990 just before Slovenia became independent.1 At first it was known only to the German-speaking intellectuals; later, through several productions and translations, it became a part of the general knowledge of the population; and today its place is as a classic among other classics, which, as we shall see, marks a considerable decline in its status.

In the Beginning

When Shakespeare wrote his plays, the Habsburg-ruled regions of today's Slovenia were undergoing the Catholic Anti-Reformation, and the only theatre was passion plays staged by the Jesuit monks in Latin. This situation remained more or less unchanged for the next century, but at the end of the eighteenth century, the first pieces on Shakespeare and his plays were written, beginning with Anton Tomaz Linhart, one of the leading Slovene intellectuals of the late eighteenth century and the author of the first theatre plays in the Slovene language.

The season of 1779/80 saw Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet and King Lear in the German Theatre of Ljubljana. Even though they were adapted versions, and in German, those performances did give the German-speaking Slovene public (high school students and intellectuals) an opportunity to become familiar with Shakespeare and his plays. The Slovene lands were briefly included in Napoleon's Illyrian Provinces from 1809 to 1814. After the French left the region, the German Theatre reopened, but Shakespeare disappeared from its stage for almost half a century, as the theatre favoured German authors.

In spite of that, all the leading authors and experts on the emerging Slovene cultural scene knew and wrote about Shakespeare. Liberals such as the philologist Matija Cop, the poet France Preseren and the writers and theoreticians Fran Levstik and Josip Stritar wrote in favour of Shakespeare, while the more conservative writers were against such indecent theatre. The more liberal group, however, were the authors who shaped the emerging Slovene literature, and it is thought that at least Levstik (one of the most important literary theoreticians of the period) was strongly under Shakespeare's influence, which, according to some authors, even prevented the development of Slovene drama (Koblar 187).

Although those writers and theoreticians knew and respected Shakespeare, they did not try to translate any of his texts, apart from one unpublished attempt by Josip Jurcic, a protégé of Levstik and traditionally considered the first Slovene novelist. But in the second half of the nineteenth century there were many less prominent Slovene intellectuals who did. The first was a student from Maribor, Ivan Vrban-Zadravski, who translated and published the second scene from Romeo and Juliet. …

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