Dr Lily Kahn, University College London


Project summary

The overarching aim of my research is to provide the first in-depth analysis of the earliest complete Shakespeare plays rendered into Hebrew, Ithiel (Othello, Vienna, 1874) and Ram and Jael (Romeo and Juliet, Vienna, 1878). The plays were translated directly from the English by Isaac Salkinson, a Lithuanian Jew who had converted to Christianity, and form part of an ideologically loaded Jewish Enlightenment initiative to establish a modern European-style Hebrew literature in Eastern Europe at a time when the language was still almost solely a written medium prior to its large-scale revernacularisation in Palestine. Salkinson’s translations are significant in several respects. Firstly, they are the earliest Hebrew versions of some of the world’s most renowned dramatic works, and are therefore a key resource for the study of Hebrew translation in Eastern Europe and the origins of Modern Hebrew literature. Secondly, they paved the way for, and thus provide valuable literary and historical contextualisation for, all subsequent Hebrew Shakespeare translations. Thirdly, they offer an important and hitherto unexplored perspective on Shakespearean translation worldwide, as they constitute some of the sole examples of renditions into a largely unspoken language. Fourthly, the translations can serve as an instructive case study for specialists in translation theory in that Salkinson adopted a highly Judaising style resulting in a target text very culturally distinct from its English counterpart. This domesticating approach, to which Salkinson adhered despite his conversion to Christianity, is consistent with the dominant Jewish Enlightenment translatorial philosophy which is itself heir to a long tradition of Judaising Hebrew adaptations of European literary works dating back to the medieval period. However, despite their great significance no comprehensive study of these remarkable translations has yet been conducted. Moreover, the Hebrew plays themselves remain largely inaccessible to readers, as they have not been reissued in a modern edition and are located in only a small number of university libraries, often confined to Rare Books collections.



I shall make Salkinson’s pioneering work available to a wide readership via the project’s main output, a book-length volume containing an introduction to the position and use of Hebrew in the Jewish Enlightenment, a biographical sketch of the translator, and a thematic synopsis of his translation techniques, followed by a presentation of the two Hebrew plays alongside an English back-translation with a running line-by-line commentary. In order to analyse Salkinson’s translatorial aims and techniques with a focus on the Judaising elements in his work, the commentary will make reference to current theory on domesticating translation; primary Jewish sources in Hebrew and Aramaic such as the Hebrew Bible, Mishnah, Talmuds, and Zohar; and the nineteenth-century Schlegel-Tieck German Shakespeare rendition. Topics to be addressed include the neutralisation of Christian and classical references; the insertion of biblical phrases and Jewish cultural motifs; and the Hebraisation/Aramaicisation of Latin and French linguistic elements. The volume, which is scheduled for publication by UCL Press in print and Open Access form, will fill a significant gap in the fields of Shakespeare translation and Eastern European Hebrew literature. In addition to the volume, I shall organise a three-day international conference on Shakespeare and the Jews; hold a lecture on Salkinson’s translations at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; produce a student/staff performance of Ram and Jael; and give a series of talks to A Level English students and teachers at three Jewish schools in the London area in order to raise awareness of the work among the wider public.


Beneficiaries and impact

This project will benefit five distinct academic constituencies. Firstly, in providing the only annotated edition of two major works of nineteenth-century Hebrew translated drama, the project will constitute an important resource for scholars and students of Hebrew literature in Eastern Europe. Secondly, as Salkinson’s works formed part of the Jewish Enlightenment movement that led directly to the emergence of the new Hebrew literary culture in Ottoman and Mandate Palestine, it will have significant implications for scholars and students specialising in the development of Modern Hebrew literature. Thirdly, as it focuses on the first Hebrew Shakespeare translations, the project will be of particular relevance to scholars and students interested in the role of Shakespeare in Jewish society and in Hebrew literature. Fourthly, the project will benefit translation studies specialists as it will present a systematic analysis of a highly domesticating translation technique that can serve as a valuable case study for research into translation theory. Finally, it will be of particular interest to specialists in global Shakespeare, as Salkinson’s work constitutes a rare example worldwide of translations into the largely unspoken language of a cultural and religious minority. In this respect the project is very timely as it fits in with the current heightened academic interest in global Shakespeare, as evidenced by the proliferation of scholarly works on the subject (e.g. Shakespeare Beyond English: A Global Experiment, ed. Susan Bennett and Christie Carson, 2013 and Shakespeare on the Global Stage: Performance and Festivity in the Olympic Year, ed. Paul Prescott and Erin Sullivan, 2015); the recently founded peer-reviewed journal Global Shakespeare; and the newly launched Global Shakespeare research and teaching partnership between the University of Warwick and Queen Mary University of London.

Although traditionally in the UK Shakespeare has been regarded as inextricably linked to the English language, in recent years there has been a growing awareness of Shakespeare as an intercultural literary figure and there is now considerable public interest in international productions of the plays. This phenomenon is evidenced not only by the popularity of non-English-language performances hosted by British theatres such as Shakespeare’s Globe and the Barbican as part of their regular seasons, but also by the huge success of the 2012 World Shakespeare Festival, which showcased many multilingual performances including the Globe to Globe Festival wherein the entire canon was presented in a range of languages. This interest gained additional momentum with the celebrations of the 450-year anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth in 2014 and is likely to grow further still with the planned commemorations of the 400-year anniversary of his death in 2016. Given this, my research will have particular appeal for three distinct groups of non-academic beneficiaries. Firstly, it will be of benefit to theatre professionals (including actors, directors, and dramaturges) both in the UK and internationally, especially those based at institutions who engage with global Shakespeare such as Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, which frequently stages productions in languages other than English and hosts public talks on Shakespeare in translation. Secondly, it will appeal to the theatre-going public with an interest in multilingual Shakespeare. Thirdly, it will be of relevance to A Level English students and teachers in Jewish schools which include intercultural themes in their Shakespeare curriculum. I aim to reach these groups through my student/staff production of Salkinson’s Ram and Jael and international conference, which will be open to the public, and a series of talks in London Jewish secondary schools. These events will provide rare opportunities to engage with this fascinating and little-known example of global Shakespeare.