Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

France and Shakespeare

Does it mean anything that the French thought, for almost three centuries, that Shakespeare was a genius, yet was vulgar and "deprived of elementary tatste" and not worth playing or reading? His ideas of propriety was wrong, somehow. Does this have to do with France’s misunderstanding of republicanism and its relationship to comedy and tragedy? Does it reveal a broader "crisis of confidence" and a "chronic distemper?" Sebastian Faulks reviews Shakespeare Goes to Paris: How the Bard Conquered France, by John Pemble, and says many interesting things about the French, their view of poetry, why Shakespeare was not appreciated until the 20th century, and why he had no good French translators for 300 years.
The book he reviews might be worth reading. It will be out in a month or so.

It strikes me that it should be noted that in many countries (for example, Hungary, Germany, Spain) the best poets learned English just to be able to translate Shakespeare, and most did this much earlier (I think) than the French. And those translations seem to my untutored ears to be quite good. It should also be mentioned that there isn’t a major city in any part of the world where a Shakespare production is not currently in progress. This is not so for Racine, Voltaire, or Corneille. That Shakespeare speaks to more than the English is clear, and has been clear for a long while, the opinion of the French, and oddities like Tolstoi, to the contrary notwithstanding.

Discussions - 2 Comments

I live in Moscow, and I can say with some authority that Russians absolutely love Shakespeare. There is always at least one of the Bard’s plays in production or scheduled (a poster for King Lear is around the corner from my office). A coupe of summers ago one of the television channels carried a live production from a local park, where a well-known actor was performing Shakespeare’s sonnets, having put them to music and playing guitar. Between sonnets, he made an interesting comment to the effect that Russians find Shakespeare much more approachable because he had been translated into modern Russian, while English speakers had to delve into a form of the language that is several hundred years old.

I enjoyed "Les Miserables" in New York’s broadway, despite the obvious spin in support of Socialism put on by the script writers.

In any event, its more "the exception that proves the rule" with respect to your main point, but it was an obviously overlooked excepted nonetheless.

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