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A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Estonian

Today Estonians celebrate their independence day. On the 24th February 1918 Estonia publicly declared her independence from the new Soviet Russia and proclaimed itself as an independent republic.

Mareike Doleschal
Estonian Midsummer Night's Dream
OSP 50/23 Estonian translation of A Midsummer Night's Dream

The Estonian Independence Day (iseseisvupäer in Estonian) is celebrated with fireworks, parades and concerts. 

There are several Estonian translations represented in the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust library. Among these are a King Lear (Kuningas Lear) published in 1926 and presented to the library by the Estonian Literary Society, a Macbeth donated by the Estonian Legation and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Suveöö-Unenäsu) published in 1924. The latter I found particularly intriguing for two reasons. It was translated by a woman, Anna Haava, and as it is the case with most donations, the donor’s name was recorded on the title page. A man called Johan Schwalbe from Tartu in Estonia presented this translation to the Shakespeare Memorial Library in 1926. It is very likely that he visited the Birthplace too and while he was in Stratford-upon-Avon, he decided to present this translation to the theatre library. Schwalbe (or Silvet as he also called himself) was an Estonian linguist, professor and author of dictionaries.

The translator, Anna Haava, was the daughter of an Estonian farmer. She attended private schools in Vanamoisa and Tartu, qualified as a governess and worked as a governess and carer in Russia and Germany. Since 1906 she earned her living from freelance writing and translating and it might have been during that period in her life that she translated A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A highly regarded lyricist of Estonian literature, Anna Haava, also wrote novels and edited a newspaper. In addition to translating Shakespeare, she translated Goethe and the fairy tales by Hans Christian Anderson.

Below is a brief extract from a play by Shakespeare in Estonian – can you guess which play it is from?


On see väits,
mis näib mu ees, mu käte poole pära?
Las kahman su: - ei taband sind, ent näen
sind siiski. Hukkatõukav nägemus,
kas pole sõrmega sa riivatav,
kuis nähtud silmale? Kas oled ehk
vaid vaimu põueoda, meeltepett
mu kuumakoormat aju sünnitis?
Näen ikka veel sind, kuju haardav käega
kui sel, mis paljastan.
Sa näitad rada, kuhu kaldusin,
ja sellast abilist ma otsind ammu.
Ons teiste meelte narr mu nägivõim
või kaalub üles muud? Veel viirastud,
ja veri varrel, teral piserdav,
mis emnist puudus sääl. - Ent pole teda,
vaid veritöö, vaid verikuulutus
nii ilmub vaatele. ...

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