“A feast of languages”

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I’ve just waved goodbye to a remarkable group of people.  It is often said that Shakespeare can bring people together – and that has certainly been the case in Stratford over the last week.

Thanks to the generous sponsorship of The English Speaking Union (www.esu.org)  teachers, theatre practitioners  and university students from Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Cyprus, Hong Kong, India, Latvia, Malta, Mauritius, Denmark, Portugal, Russia, Tajikstan, Turkey, and the USA, have had the chance to spend a week immersed in all matters  Shakesperian –  they have moved from speaking sugar’d sonnets, to saucy speculation about Shakespeare’s sex life!

For some this was their first  trip  to Stratford, and their visit to his birthplace marked the fulfilment of a lifetime ambition.  For others this course provided their first opportunity to hear Shakespeare’s plays performed in the English language.  And for me, this global gathering represented a rare opportunity to hear first hand about Shakespeare’s influence across continents and cultures.

One of our guests this week was Sava Dragunchev from Bulgaria.  Sava is a company actor at Bulgaria’s National Theatre which was founded in 1904. Sava has recently played the role of the King in Love’s Labour’s Lost, and is currently performing in a production of King Lear. The production has a renowned Bulgarian actor in the title role, and at the age of 81 this performer is the true embodiment of Lear’s ‘four score’ king. The play is performed against a backdrop of metal walls, lending the production a tough, unsettling atmosphere.  Naturally Sava was interested to hear about the RSC’s current production of the play, and it was interesting to compare some of the choices the two companies have made for major scenes. Here’s Sava giving a flavour of how the storm scene is staged in the Bulgarian production.

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As Sava suggests, Shakespeare has a healthy performance history in Bulgaria. A quick flick through The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare, edited by Stanley Wells and Michael Dobson, tells us that Shakespeare’s name first appeared in print in Bulgaria in 1858. Curiously the first reference to Shakespeare’s name in Bulgaria was “in relation to weather conditions in the British Isles”, rather than with reference to any of his plays. It appears that the first amateur performance of Romeo and Juliet took place in 1868, and since that date Shakespeare’s plays, particularly his  comedies and tragedies have often been performed to great acclaim. By the 1980s the entire canon had been translated by Valery Petrov, and these translations continue to serve as the standard text for performance

Like Sava, all of the people on this course had interesting tales to tell, and my next couple of blogs will feature contributions from other members of the course. Watch this space for upcoming blogs on Shakespeare in Maltese, and translating Shakespeare for performance in Bangladesh.

Thank you to all of the members of this year’s international delegation – it was a pleasure and a privelege to spend time in your company, share in your stories, and learn from your experiences of working with Shakespeare in ‘a feast of languages’ .  You will be missed,  but hopefully we will meet again.

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Author:Nick Walton

Nick Walton is a Lecturer in Shakespeare Studies at The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

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