“Shylock's Return”: Translational Transactions in The Merchant of Venice on the Hebrew Stage

“Shylock's Return”: Translational Transactions in The Merchant of Venice on the Hebrew Stage

Dror Abend-David
DOI: 10.4018/IJTIAL.2020010104
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This article addresses monetary, cultural, political and religious transactions, exchanges, conversions and translations between Jews and non-Jews in the play, “The Merchant of Venice,” in relation with Hebrew performances of the play and their social and political contexts. The article examines Leopold Jessner's production from 1936, Tyrone Guthrie production from 1959, Yossi Izae'li's production from 1972, and Hanan Snir's production from 1995 (both in Israel and in Germany). The discussion will address various facets of the complicated intercultural relations that the Merchant of Venice has come to symbolize to Hebrew speaking audiences.
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Part I - Transactions, Exchanges, Conversions, And Translations

A significant facet of the plays of William Shakespeare is their structural symmetry: Already in The Comedy of Errors, one of Shakespeare’s earlier plays, Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse are matched by Antipholus and Dromio of Ephesus. And the wealthy Antipholus twins are matched by their Dromio servant twins – each separated and reunited with his respective brother. Naturally, the mishaps and romantic triangles of the wealthier twins are reflected in the mishaps and romantic triangles of their servants. And by maintaining this symmetry, Shakespeare is using class disparity to a comic effect that can already be found in the original play by Plautus.1 However, Shakespeare adds a short speech of protest by Dromio of Ephesus in Act IV, scene iv, who delivers unexpected social commentary. This short speech, complaining of the woes of the oppressed servant, contains elements such as “heats me” and “cools me” (with beating) that employ antonyms to make a single point, and forecast Shylock’s speech in The Merchant of Venice (Act III, scene i), as well as Caliban’s complaint in The Tempest (Act I, scene ii). It is this structural symmetry, therefore, that renders Shakespeare’s work particularly suitable for a discussion of translational transactions – since his plays repeatedly provoke social, cultural, financial, romantic, religious, and gender-based exchanges and conversions. And these exchanges, either consensual or forced, mutually profitable or mutually destructive, often yield a great deal more than either the characters or the audience expect.

It is in the discussion of Shakespeare and Translation that Dirk Delabastita refers to the dramatic function of translation. Delabastita speaks about translation in rather than of Shakespearean plays, pointing at instances that feature translation in order to motivate the plot, and to infuse the drama with social, political and historical meaning, while the “comprehension of the original text is not an issue at all” (Delabastita, 2004, p. 39).2 Accordingly, the translation of Shakespeare’s work is matched by the “translation” within the play and various polarities that the text contains. Adding to this the move of Translation Studies since the 1960’s from Eugene Nida and Charles Taber’s concept of dynamic equivalences (Nida & Taber, 1969, p. 200), through the discussion of Susan Bassnett and Andre Lefevere about Cultural Translation (Bassnett & Lefevere, 1990), to recent scholarship such as that of Ahmed ElShiekh (ElShiekh, 2012) who speaks of the gap in translation – translation appears less as a transparent vehicle for delivering content, and more as a critical tool for exploring what is between the words, the possibilities that can be found within the text, and negotiated transactions between the contexts and the cultures of the source and target languages.

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