In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Shakespeare in Translation

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Online Bibliographies
  • Digital Approaches to the Archiving and Study of Shakespeare Translations
  • Periodicals
  • Thematic Journal Issues

British and Irish Literature Shakespeare in Translation
Dirk Delabastita
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 April 2024
  • LAST MODIFIED: 19 April 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0202


Shakespeare is not an English writer only. His works absorbed a multitude of foreign-language sources and influences, and they also stage many heterolingual scenes and characters. Moreover, the plays soon started to travel abroad to mainland Europe, its colonies, and beyond, a process that was to be variously energized by the forces of imperialism, decolonization, local nation-building projects, and globalization. The worldwide circulation of Shakespeare’s texts crucially depends on translators to make his works meaningful and relevant to readers and spectators with restricted or no knowledge of (Early Modern) English. One way or the other, translators always respond to the needs and pressures of their times, and they usually work together with other mediators such as editors, publishers, authors, critics, theater directors, adapters, film directors, and so forth, causing translation to be deeply enmeshed in wider forms of reception and not always easy to distinguish from them. Studying these complex processes of Shakespearean transmissions, appropriations, and reinterpretations offers a unique insight into the interlingual and intercultural conflicts, dialogues, and interactions that make up history—English history included. By the same token, the thousands of translations of Shakespeare’s work constitute a variegated corpus of sources documenting how the originals can be read and have been read, thus enhancing our understanding of their semantic potential. Until a few decades ago mainstream Shakespearean criticism in the Anglosphere tended to see Shakespeare translation as a minor theme better left to “overseas” Shakespearean researchers. That is changing now, with a growing awareness that a one-language and one-culture Shakespeare simply never existed and that there is so much to be learned from investigating the Bard’s multilingual exits and entrances. This study often happens on a (target) language-by-language or country-by-country basis, but it can also adopt more comprehensive and comparative perspectives. There is a long tradition of translating Shakespeare’s plays into a wide range of European languages, but more recent criticism also highlights Shakespeare as a globally translated author. There is interesting new work exploring the benefits of digitally based research into translation. Greater attention is increasingly being given to less typical or traditional forms of interlingual circulation, such as translating Shakespeare for film/television, translating him into (modern) English, the signing of Shakespeare for the deaf community, and the translation of Shakespearean criticism. The translation of his nondramatic poetry had a later start and has had a somewhat distinct history compared to the plays; this is reflected in the corresponding translation criticism.

General Overviews

The entries reviewed in this section do not primarily concentrate on individual plays or target languages but set out to somehow sketch a wider view of the field. Delabastita 1993, Kennedy 1993, and Ewbank 1995 are among publications from the 1990s that helped to give the general question of translation greater visibility in mainstream Anglophone Shakespeare studies, followed in this respect by Hoenselaars 2012 (first edition 2004), which now stands out as a key reference. Homem and Hoenselaars 2004, Dente and Soncini 2008, Minier and Kahn 2021, and Saenger and Costola 2023 are edited volumes presenting a range of target cultures and different perspectives. Those interested in comparable collections of papers may profitably turn to the Thematic Journal Issues devoted to our topic; several among them also provide wide-angle surveys accompanied by a variety of case studies. Hoenselaars 2009, Huang 2011, and Delabastita 2019 make the general case for studying Shakespeare translations in the more concise and synthetic manner of an article.

  • Delabastita, Dirk. There’s a Double Tongue: An Investigation into the Translation of Shakespeare’s Wordplay, with Special Reference to Hamlet. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1993.

    DOI: 10.1163/9789004490581

    Discusses wordplay and translation separately, before combining the two topics. Challenges the cliché that puns are “untranslatable” and pleads in favor of a descriptive approach, using a corpus of the puns in Hamlet and many of their Dutch, French, and German renderings.

  • Delabastita, Dirk. “Language and Translation.” In The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare’s Language. Edited by Lynne Magnusson, with David Schalkwyk, 226–243. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2019.

    Discusses examples from Hamlet and the Sonnets, aiming to demonstrate why translation deserves to be no less than a central theme in Shakespeare studies.

  • Dente, Carla, and Sara Soncini, eds. Crossing Space and Time: Shakespeare Translations in Present-Day Europe. Pisa: PLUS—Pisa University Press, 2008.

    A collective volume mainly dealing with German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish translations. It also considers the position of translation within the Shakespeare industry.

  • Ewbank, Inga-Stina. “Shakespeare Translation as Cultural Exchange.” Shakespeare Survey 48 (1995): 1–12.

    A well-known essay that presents translation as a mutually beneficial cultural exchange. The author invites scholars to abandon insularity and embrace the multilingual circulation of Shakespeare’s texts.

  • Hoenselaars, Ton. “Translation Futures: Shakespearians and the Foreign Text.” Shakespeare Survey 62 (2009): 273–282.

    A position paper on the relationship between translation, international Shakespeare, and the academic Shakespeare industry, calling for a mutual rapprochement. Historical examples include the case of Jan Vos, whose Aran and Titus (1641) in Dutch was a very early instance of a foreign adaptation/translation.

  • Hoenselaars, Ton, ed. Shakespeare and the Language of Translation. Rev. ed. London: Arden Shakespeare, 2012.

    Revision of the original 2004 edition. Should be the student’s and the researcher’s first port of call. Bearing the prestigious Arden imprint, it was also a landmark in the discovery of the theme of translation by Anglo-American Shakespeare criticism. Different languages, continents, topics, and very diverse types of translation are discussed. Comes with a bibliography.

  • Homem, Rui Carvalho, and Ton Hoenselaars, eds. Translating Shakespeare for the Twenty-First Century. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2004.

    A collection of essays providing an excellent survey of the state of the art at the beginning of the new millennium. Contemporary translation practices are discussed from a wider historical perspective and/or are used to exemplify several theoretical approaches ranging from semiotics to theater studies. The second part of the volume presents a casebook on Portuguese Shakespeare translations.

  • Huang, Alexa Alice. “Shakespeare and Translation.” In The Edinburgh Companion to Shakespeare and the Arts. Edited by Mark Thornton Burnett, Adrian Streete, and Ramona Wray, 68–87. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2011.

    An interesting and wide-ranging survey of issues and key historical moments. Helpfully includes examples of Asian translations to demonstrate the global dimensions of Shakespeare as a figure of cultural value across a variety of media.

  • Kennedy, Dennis, ed. Foreign Shakespeare: Contemporary Performance. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

    A very influential collection of essays claiming attention for modern Shakespearean theatrical productions outside the English language (but mainly within a European context). Translations and interlingual adaptations are viewed from the performance angle.

  • Minier, Marta, and Lily Kahn, eds. Hamlet Translations: Prisms of Cultural Encounters across the Globe. Cambridge, UK: Legenda, 2021.

    Discusses how Hamlet has been translated into a wide range of (mainly European) languages, including Icelandic, European and Brazilian Portuguese, Welsh, Hebrew, Ukrainian, Slovenian, Greek, Spanish, Hungarian, Finnish, and Slovak. Also examines recent productions in Romania, Lithuania, and China, among others. Shows how all these versions carry the traces of their own history and cultural context.

  • Saenger, Michael, and Sergio Costola, eds. Shakespeare in Succession: Translation and Time. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2023.

    A volume with a wide chronological and geocultural range. Shows a multidisciplinary setup in attempting to promote a dialogue between translators of Shakespeare (in Argentina, Brazil, China, Italy, and Japan), theatrical practitioners, and historians of literature and translation, as well as in its readiness to open the concept of translation beyond its conventional interlingual sense.

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