Academic journal article Multicultural Shakespeare

Hamlet and Japanese Men of Letters

Academic journal article Multicultural Shakespeare

Hamlet and Japanese Men of Letters

Article excerpt

Multicultural Shakespeare: Translation, Appropriation and Performance vol. 14 (29), 2016; DOI: 10.1515/mstap-2016-0020

Abstract: Shakespeare has exerted a powerful influence on Japanese literature since he was accepted in the second half of the nineteenth century. Particularly Hamlet has had a strong impact on Japanese men of letters and provided them with the impetus to revive the play in contemporary literature. In this paper I discuss how they have utilized Hamlet for their creative activity and enriched Japanese literature.

Keywords: Shakespeare translation and appopriation, Shakespeares impact on Japanese novelists, Novelization of Hamlet, Modernization of Japanese literature

Shakespeare was introduced into Japan during the period of her modernization or Westernization. In 1871 his short biography and Polonius speech, Neither a borrower nor a lender be,/For loan oft loses both itself and friend,/And borrowing dulleth thedge of husbandry (1.3.75-77), were introduced in the translation of Samuel Smiles Self-Help, a best-seller. Why was the book widely read? In the beginning of the Meiji era, the old, hereditary class divisions were abolished, and leadership came primarily from groups of former samurai. After that, with careers opened to talent, bright but socially handicapped youths tried to seek distinguished positions in society and exercised diligence in studying and working with their motto: Success in life. Self-Help taught them that the essential virtues were endeavor, diligence, thrift and patience.

In 1874 Charles Wirgman, an English correspondent for the London Illustrated News, published his inaccurate translation of the To be, or not to be soliloquy in the Japan Punch. From then onwards Hamlet has been translated into Japanese and adapted to the stage repeatedly. In 1875 Robun Kanagaki, a fiction-writer, published a story of Hamlet whose title was Seiyo Kabuki Hamuretto [A Western Kabuki Hamlet] in a newspaper, and in 1880 he rewrote it using Joruri (ballad drama) style and gave it a new title, Hamuretto Yamato Nishikie [Hamlet with Japanese Woodblock Prints]. But it didnt include the To be, or not to be soliloquy.

Kyorin University.

Yoshiko Kawachi

Hamlet and Japanese Men of Letters

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Yoshiko Kawachi

In 1881 or 1882 Shoichi Toyama, Professor of the Tokyo Imperial University, attempted to translate Hamlet into Japanese. His word-for-word translation was entitled Seiyo Joruri: Reigen Oji no Adauchi [Western Joruri: Revenge of an All-powerful Prince], but it was not completed. In 1882 Toyama, Ryokichi Yatabe and Tetsujoiro Inoue published their translations of the To be, or not to be soliloquy in Shintaishi-sho, Japans first anthology of new style poems. Toyama rendered it into Which is better, to die or to live?, whereas Yatabe provided it with a loose translation, Should I live long, or not? It is worth noting that their translations profoundly influenced the younger poets and stimulated their appetite for writing. For instance, Tokoku Kitamura, a romantic poet, wrote a dramatic poem, Horai Kyoku [An Air from the Isle of Eternal Youth], and Toson Shimazaki, not only a romantic poet but also a pioneer of Japanese naturalist, wrote Hikyoku: Biwahoshi [A Doleful Air: A Strolling Lutist]. These men of letters were attracted by the troubled heart of Hamlet and sympathized with his philosophical dilemma.

Shoyo Tsubouchi (1859-1935) is the first translator of Shakespeares complete works. When young, he attended the lecture given by Professor William Houghton at the Tokyo Imperial University and got a poor mark in the final examination, because he wrote an analytic characterization of Queen Gertrude from his viewpoint based on moral justice found in Kabuki and Joruri. But this failure gave him a chance to consider the essential differences between European and Japanese literature. He started writing Shosetsu Shinzui [The Essence of the Novel] to advance a new theory about novels and published it in 1885. …

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