The Bard in Translation

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Shakespeare fans,  mark your calendars: next spring, the Globe Theatre will truly live up to its name when it hosts the “Globe to Globe” Shakespeare festival starting April 23rd. During the festival, the theater will present all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays, in 37 different languages or dialects.

The plays will be performed by theater companies from 36 different countries around the world, many performing brand-new adaptations of familiar stories. Festival director Tom Bird told CNN that the theater tried to select performers from countries with strong immigrant communities in London, though that wasn’t the only consideration:

“The tricky thing is we can’t get everyone in, so we thought a little bit about the languages that are spoken in London, like Urdu, Yoruba and Polish. We also looked at countries that have a great long history of performing Shakespeare, like Georgia and Armenia, and finally if there was a very good show, we could take that anyway.”

The lineup also includes several theater groups with amazing, against-the-odds stories. For example, Afghanistan’s  Roy-e-Sabs theater company, who will performing “A Comedy of Errors” in Dari, were using the British Council building in Kabul as a rehearsal space before it was attacked in August. Bird told CNN, “Luckily they weren’t there on that day, but it was really a very, very lucky miss.”

Meanwhile, according to the Australian, the pitch for the South Sudanese theater company included this heartbreaking note from the brand-new country’s presidential adviser on culture:  “I used to lie in the bush under the stars reading Shakespeare’s plays, not thinking about the killing that would take place in the morning.”

Then, there’s the theater company from Belarus. Apparently, the Bard is not popular with the oppressive Belorussian government, and the actors are performing despite the threat of persecution back home.

It sounds like an amazing lineup! Most people won’t be able to understand all or even most of the languages the plays will be performed in, but don’t expect subtitles. Brush up on your Shakespeare before you go, then follow along as best you can.  As Mr. Bird explained to CNN, the theater wanted to make sure that the audience spends their time watching the plays, not reading subtitles:

“We want people to really listen to the language, even if they don’t understand it. We hope they will enjoy hearing these familiar stories in an unfamiliar language.”