13 of March 2021
The 11th World Shakespeare Congress will be held online from the National University of Singapore on July 18–24, 2021. The Congress theme of circuits draws attention to the passage of Shakespeare’s work between places and periods, agencies and institutions, positionalities and networks of production, languages and mediums. The theme is particularly suited to the online medium of the Congress, that gathers together such passages of Shakespeare’s work not by the movements of persons between places, but by creatively connecting and expanding our circuits in multimedia and live conversations.
Database "Russian Shakespeare"
Moscow University for the Humanities

Shakespeare in Russia. First mentioned in Russian in Alexander Sumarokov’s Epistle on Verse Composition, in an enumeration of great writers: “Shakespeare too, uneducated enough”. There is a footnote comment running like this, “Shakespeare was an English tragedian and comedian who had as many bad properties as great ones. He died on the 23rd day of April, 1616, at the age of 53” (The Two Epistles, St. Petersburg, 1748, p. 9, 28). Sumarokov published his Hamlet in the same year, and it was a typical Classicist tragedy based on a French remake of Shakespeare’s tragedy by La Place (1745). The earliest mention of Shakespeare penetrated Russia via French and German publications. Even in early 19th c. his works would frequently be transposed to Russian from French Classicist adaptations by J.F. Ducis (1733–1816): Lear translated by Nickolay Gnedich (1808) (The publication was misattributed to early Pushkin in the first anonymous mention of the Russian author in The Foreign Quarterly Review (1827. Vol. 1, No 2, p. 624–627): the British critic stated that Pushkin’s career had begun with a translation of King Lear into Russian.). Also in 1808, I. Velyaminov translated Othello, and in 1811 S. Viskovatov translated Hamlet. We cannot overlook Nickolay Karamzin’s translation from the original of Julius Caesar (1787); this was indeed a novelty, but the translation itself did not win a large audience, and in 1794 it was banned for political reasons.

The Romantic cult of Shakespeare in the early 19th century had been prepared by European pre-romantics. Authors like Wilhelm Küchelbecker, Alexander Pushkin, Alexander Griboyedov, and Orest Somov followed Shakespeare’s sample in creating a specific national literature, founded on the comprehension of the national spirit. In the years following the Decembrists rising of 1825 and its suppression, Shakespeare’s dramas and histories helped to interpret the political tragedy and its participants. In imprisonment, W. Küchelbecker translated Macbeth (1828–1832) and historical dramas, wrote the Discourse on Shakespeare’s Eight Histories and Richard III in Particular (1832).

New translations appeared when prompted by interest for the originals. Independently of Küchelbecker, Mikhail Vronchenko translated Hamlet (1828), Act I of King Lear (1832), and Macbeth (1837), and V. Yakimov translated King Lear (1833) and The Merchant of Venice (1833). Several other translations remained unpublished. The pursuit of accuracy would lead to word-for-word translation choices.

Pushkin remains the most outstanding representative of Russian Shakespearianism. Following the Decembrists, Pushkin set himself a goal, to create a national literature in Russia, and in this he had better success than anyone else. The poet’s Shakespearianism did not appear just due to the literary fashion, widely spread in Western Europe. It was different from the cult of Shakespeare, as well as from Shakespearisation, so evident in the work of his many contemporaries. Pushkin’s interest for Shakespeare the writer developed into a stronger spiritual relationship. Pushkin’s Shakespearianism incorporates a complete world outlook, and from a mere literary influence it became a philosophic stand. Mature Pushkin’s concept of authority and the people was shaped by Shakespeare’s work. Pushkin called Shakespeare a Romantic, meaning that true Romanticism creates art that is fitted to the time spirit and linked to national life. Pushkin tried to adapt Shakespeare’s artistic method to the contemporary state of society. He considered objectivity, truthfulness of characters and “a precise reflection of the period” to be the main features of Shakespearian manner of writing. “In the manner of our Father Shakespeare” Pushkin created his tragedy Boris Godunov (1825) and adopted Shakespeare’s objectivity while depicting the time and characters. Foregrounding the issues of authority status and its interaction with the people, Pushkin followed Shakespeare, and results of this imitation are evident in his narrative poem Angelo (1833), which paraphrases the play of Measure for Measure. Shakespearean poetics in Boris Godunov was adopted by Russian drama, especially history plays; in particular, Pushkin’s tragedy provided a Shakespearian model for Mikhail Pogodin (Martha, Novgorod Posadnik’s Wife, 1830) and Alexey Khomyakov (False Dmitri, 1833). Pogodin also juxtaposed the people and the Tsar’s authority making the former his principal collective character (Russkiy Arkhiv, 1882, Bk. 2, No 6, p. 151).

Vissarion Belinsky was among the first critics to embrace the realistic method of Shakespeare, proving him to be a true humanist and democrat: “Reading Shakespeare’s drama shows that each person is a legitimate artistic subject, however low he stands in the social hierarchy and even in humanity as such” (Response to The Muscovite Journal; see: Complete Works, vol. 10, 1956, p. 242). In Mikhail Lermontov’s opinion, Shakespeare is “a genius too broad to comprehend, penetrating into people’s hearts and fates” (Collected Works, vol. 6, 1956, p. 407); Turgenev placed him among Titans and semi-gods (Collected Works, vol. 8, 1964, p. 185); Dostoyevsky regarded him as “the prophet sent us by God to announce the mystery of man, and of man’s soul” (Notebooks, 1935, p. 179).

In 1849 N.Kh. Ketcher started translating Shakespeare’s complete plays. The playwright’s images came to be used in works of Alexandr Herzen, Ivan Goncharov, Ivan Turgenev, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Apollon Grigoryev, and other writers, interpreted anew in contemporary environments.

Nickolay Polevoy’s translation of Hamlet was staged in Moscow with P. Mochalov, and in Saint Petersburg with V. Karatygin, making Shakespeare a permanent part of the Russian theatrical repertoire. The translator certainly took liberties with the original, making it closer to Romantic melodrama, and made his text an expression of his generation’s tragedy. “We weep together with Hamlet”, he said, “beweeping ourselves” (Teatralnaya Gazeta, 1877, No 8, p. 255). P. Annenkov, the first scholar of Pushkin’s work, mentioned a contradiction between the aspirations of the progressive youth and political bondage, calling it Russian Hamletism. In 1838 Vissarion Belinsky wrote, “Hamlet! He is you and me, and each of us, in a way, for pathos or mockery, but always giving rise to sadness and pity…” (Collected Works, vol. 2, p. 254). However, later, in the 1840s, Belinsky defined the Prince’s lack of determination and aptness to talk rather than act as “shameful” (Ibid., vol. 7, p. 313).

In his essay Hamlet and Don Quixote (1860), Ivan Turgenev showed that in the changed circumstances Hamlets of the 1840s had turned into “odd men out”, who hate evil but cannot fight against it, as their egotism and skepticism prevail. Turgenev supported his interpretation of Hamlet in various characters from Hamlet of the Shchigrov Uyezd (1849) to Virgin Soil (1876). Fyodor Dostoevsky  also represented his own interpretations of Shakespeare’s works in his characters. He was most attracted by Othello, Hamlet and Falstaff, who, as he considered, had embodied the three life principles: non-acceptance of evil, skepticism bordering on despair, and parasitical exploitation of social vices.

The 1840–60s saw many new translations of Shakespeare (A.I. Druzhinin, N.M. Satin, A.A. Grigoryev, P.I. Weinberg and others), where the goal was realism and adequacy in the rendering of style. In 1865–68 the first Complete Works came out: Shakespeare’s Dramatic Works, Translated by Russian Authors, later reprinted more than once.However, in the politician heat of the 1860s Shakespeare lost topicality and was shelved to the Classics, ousted by more urgent literary debates. Some Russian writers also attempted to dethrone Shakespeare. Thus, Nickolay Chernyshevsky called on his readers to “leave off all fake reverence for Shakespeare” and claimed “half of any drama of his to be unfit for aesthetic enjoyment nowadays” (Complete Works, vol. 2, 1949, p. 283, 50). In the last third of the 19th c., there began academic scholarship of Shakespeare, its founder being N.I. Storozhenko, whose first works on Shakespeare appeared still in the 1860s. His historical and cultural works about Shakespeare, his predecessors and successors, gained respect abroad as well. Lev Shestov, as a decadent, opposed systemic study of Shakespeare in his book Shakespeare and His Critic Brandes (1898), where he treated Shakespeare’s tragedies very subjectively as “answers to the hardest of life’s issues”. In 1902–04 S.S. Vengerov with a team of scholars, critics and translators to produce Shakespeare’s Complete Works (with commentary) in 5 volumes, in this concluding Shakespearian scholarship of the 19th c. in Russia.

In the early 20th century Alexandr Blok constantly turned to Shakespeare, finding many important problems voiced in his work, in particular, the role of a personality in history. Hamlet’s theme accompanied all of Blok’s poetry, from the intimate lyric of Hamlet to Ophelia, to the problems of making life choice, duty and revenge.

Blok preached Shakespeare in the troublesome years of the revolution and the civil war, emphasizing Shakespeare’s topicality for that period, the moral charge of his drama, aiming at “making a man … human” (Collected Works, vol. 6, 1962, p. 355). Blok stated that Shakespeare’s plays should become central in the repertoire of future.

Then, pre-revolutionary Shakespeare studies were forgotten. Why should Russian people have remembered the English, dead for three and a half centuries by then, when Russia was in the midst of a self-destructive war, famine, decline and despair of 1917-1920s? Yet, other classics dared even worse. Anatoly Lunacharsky, the supreme ideologist of Soviet literary studies, favored Shakespeare, and as far back as in 1903 had written on Hamlet (a chapter in his essay Facing the Fate): the article was on art and philosophy, while Lunacharsky’s lectures on Shakespeare in his course of foreign literature were permeated with Communist propaganda and revolutionary pathos. In the 1920s critic displayed too much of a sociological bias which was obvious in a book by V. Fritzsche (1926). Theater-related study of Shakespeare began with V.K. Müller’s work Drama and Theater of Shakespeare’s Time (1925). I.A. Aksyonov was interested in the structural aspects of Shakespeare’s drama (Hamlet and other essays, to assist our Shakespeare studies, 1930). A.A. Smirnov published the first research (The Work of Shakespeare, 1934) that deeply investigated the playwright’s relation s with Renaissance humanism. In the 1940–1950s Mikhail Morozov published valuable research works on the language and style of Shakespeare.

The second half of the 1950s, with its preparation for the 400th anniversary (to come in 1564), marked a new stage in Soviet studies of Shakespeare. Many publications of these years were very deep in their research into social, philosophic, and artistic motives in the work of the playwright, as well as artistic peculiarities of his work. Alexandr Anikst’s work embraced a whole range of issues (biography, creative work, theater, artistic method, text problems). Leonid Pinsky’s book contained an original social, philosophic and stylistic analysis. The correlation between the tragedies and histories was analyzed by Yu. Shvedov. Various aspects were discussed in works by N. Berkovsky, I. Vertzman, B. Zingerman, R. Samarin, M. and D. Urnovs, and others. Books by theater and film director Grigory Kozintsev, Shakespeare Our Contemporary (2nd ed., 1966) and The Space of the Tragedy (1973) voice deep ideas concerning the nature of Shakespeare’s art. The film director Sergey Yutkevich wrote a comprehensive study of Shakespeare in the Cinema (1973).

Two principal approaches emerge as we look at the translation history of the Soviet period. The first (1930–40s) was marked by an intention to render the complexity of Shakespeare’s images and metaphors, preserving the variety of styles in his drama, including Shakespeare’s rudenesses; this can characterize the translations by Anna Radlova, Mikhail Lozinsky, and Mikhail Kuzmin. A new translation method was then introduced by Boris Pasternak, when he rejected literalness and modernized the language. His principles were embraced by S. Marshak, V. Levik, Yu. Korneyev, M. Donskoy, T. Gnedich, and P. Melkova, whose translations strive to unite accuracy with poetic naturalness and fluency in the target language.

A number of stage versions of the 1935–40s proved very innovative, such as A.D. Popov’s Romeo and Juliet, S. Radlov’s Othello starring A. Ostuzhev, and his King Lear with S. Mikhoels, all of them realistic in their method. The performance of Much Ado About Nothing (dir. S. Rapoport, starring R. Smirnov and Ts. Mansurova, 1936), The Taming of the Shrew (dir. A. Popov, 1937), As You Like It (dir. N. Khmelyov, 1940) were the first exemplary interpretations. In the 1950s a new wave of original stagings began (N. Okhlopkov’s and G. Kozintsev’s Hamlets, both in 1954). The cinema contributed high-quality versions of Shakespeare’s tragedies Othello (dir. S. Yutkevich, starring S. Bondarchuk, 1946), Hamlet (dir. G. Kozintsev, 1964, starring I. Smoktunovsky), and King Lear (dir. G. Kozintsev, 1972, starring Jüri Järvet).

Composers of Russia have created a number of works based on Shakespearean plots: V. Shebalin’s opera The Taming of the Shrew, S. Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet, A. Machavariani’s Othello, V. Oransky’s The Merry Wives of Windsor. D. Shostakovich and T. Khrennikov supplied musical scores to stage and screen versions. There are also notable series of book illustrations by V. Favorsky, A. Goncharov, D. Shmarinov, and V. Volovich.

N. V. Zakharov

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