On 12 April, 6pm, Library Graduate Trainee Philippa Taylor pulled off the cover from the display case in the vestibule of the Voltaire Room and revealed to an admiring crowd of linguists, librarians and literature lovers four versions of Shakespeare’s ‘Tempest’: a Portuguese translation printed in Lisbon in 1977, Aimé Césaire’s adaptation pour un théâtre nègre from 1969, the typescript of the only Frisian translation with commentary extant and, as crowning piece, a wonderfully atmospheric large colour print from a French artist’s book based on the translation by A. du Couchet.
The Tempest arrangement forms the final case in a new exhibition in the Taylor Institution dedicated to Shakespeare in translation. The idea for putting this on was sparked by the lucky coincidence of a symposium on Ulrike Draesner, Writer-in-Residence at the German Sub-Faculty in 2015-16, and the Shakespeare 2016 events going on in Oxford. A few years ago, Ulrike had published her “radical translations” of 17 Shakespeare sonnets, set in a post-modern world of reproduction not via nature as in Shakespeare’s sonnets but via cloning. This had inspired German lecturer, translator and poet Tom Cheesman to venture a back-translation in which he “Englished” her versions again. Emma Huber as German Subject Librarian and Henrike Lähnemann as Professor for Medieval German, working together on the Reformation 2017 project, were just looking for a test case to trial a new form of library booklet as print-on-demand. They both thought that this would be the perfect copy: Shakespeare – put into German – returned to English in a literature-generating movement characteristic for Modern Languages in dialogue.
The exhibition spirals out from the display cases in the centre of the Voltaire Room. Standing high, the oldest cabinet which has seen many a distinguished publication from first editions to brand new research publications shows the genesis of ‘Twin Spin’, the Shakespeare x Draesner x Cheesman sonnet version.
The largest cabinet next to it is needed to show at least a fraction of the over 180 attempts to render Shakespeare sonnets in German, starting with Dorothea Tieck’s take on it as part of the classic ‘Schlegel-Tieck-Ausgabe’ which made Shakespeare – at least in the eyes of nineteenth century Germans – a truly German author. A special focus is on the early 20th century bibliophile versions of Stefan George and Friedrich Huch, which provide an eye-catching display in contrast to the typescript aesthetics of the 1980s and 1990s, when Shakespeare was in vogue with the likes of the singer-songwriter Wolf Biermann.
Spiralling outward from the central cabinets are two cases crammed with again just a small selection of sonnet translations into other European languages, from Sorbian to Yiddish, emphasising – as an Italian dissertation on display claims – that Shakespeare speaks ‘da poeta a poeta’. The rich material on literary engagement with Shakespeare is then taken beyond the sonnets in samples of translations of his plays across the languages – and across the media to visual material and DVDs. The Tempest display case mentioned at the beginning provides a final case study of how much more could be explored.
The exhibition was curated by Henrike Lähnemann (Professor of Medieval German Literature and Linguistics), together with Emilia Henderson and Philippa Taylor and the help of the Taylor Institution staff. Special thanks go to Lydia Pryce-Jones who designed the cover image, to Emma Huber for master-minding the operation, and to Clare Hills-Nova for her curatorial expertise! So this is an exhibition that invites visitors on a journey to discover more of the astonishing treasures of the Taylorian while engaging with Shakespeare. The catalogue of the exhibition can be downloaded here; the full edition of ‘Twin Spin’ can be bought in the Taylorian at the Issue Desk or ordered from online retailers (ISBN 978-0-9954564-0-2). This first pamphlet from the Taylor Institution Library is published on the day of Shakespeare’s 400th death day, showing that he is very much alive – not least through the constant renewal in translation.