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Shakespeare in Hungarian

To mark Shakespeare’s birthday, we are publishing a blog about the Trust’s Hungarian translations of Shakespeare’s works.

Annamaria Vass
Hungarian Shakespeare criticism (1909)
Literary criticism of Shakespeare's works in Hungarian published 1909 (63.2 Hungary/BAY)

Following the research conversation on the subject of translating Shakespeare, I decided to investigate our Hungarian translations of Shakespeare.  I recalled seeing a set of translations donated by the Kisfaludy Society to our Library and took another look at them.

What did I find?  There are many amazing books in our library, including translations, articles, and consultations about translating the Bard into Hungarian.

First Hungarian production of Shakespeare (1794)
Reproduction of a playbill advertising the first Hungarian production of Hamlet (1794) (63.2 Hungary/NEW)

Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet are probably the most translated works of Shakespeare and are required reading for Hungarian secondary school students aged fifteen.

Although I am not a Shakespeare or history scholar, I found many connections by using my education.

In my previous blog, I talked about the revolution, which swept through Europe reaching Hungary and Sandor Petofi, who vanished in 1849, in the battle against the Habsburg Empire.

Following the revolution, Hungary protested with the so called Passive Resistance against exploitation and the suppression of national autonomy.  This was a hard time for any intellectual, but on his return after exile, Mihaly Worosmarty – an iconic figure - translated King Lear, which included contemporary references to 19th century Hungary.

In 1859 the Habsburg Empire showed willingness to compromise while also focussing on other matters, giving the Hungarian nation a chance to breathe.

Title page Shakespeare in Hungarian (1864-1878)
Nineteenth century Hungarian Shakespeare translation (47 Hungarian/1864-1878)

The Kisfaludy Tarsasag was a literary society between 1836 and 1952 congregating and supporting many talented writers and poets. Note the spelling on the first edition, which was hurriedly put together.

The first Shakespeare Committee was formed in 1860 within the Kisfaludy Society with the intention to publish affordable Shakespeare translations on his 300th anniversary.  The report, written by the leader of this committee Janos Arany, was printed in 1964 – note the date – along with an article on Petofi’s Richard III translation.  Arany, often said to be the Shakespeare of Ballads, also translated the Bard’s work.

Shakespeare.  Change his name into a mountain, and it will surpass the Himalayas; turn it into a sea and you will find it broader, and deeper than the Atlantic; convert it into a star, and it will outshine the sun itself.” – wrote Gabor Egressy in 1847 on the stage of the Pest National Theatre about the translation of Richard III by Petofi.

Hungarian translation (1964)
A book published on the occasion of the quartercentary of Shakespeare's birth (47 Hungarian/1964)

All villages in Hungary have streets named after those outstanding people who translated Shakespeare.  Here, I have to mention my favourite:  Lorinc Szabo’s translation of the LXXV sonnet, so effortlessly beautiful, still Shakespearian.  In our library it is part of the 2 volumes Shakespeare complete translation published on the occasion of the 400th anniversary.

Azt hiszem nem kell bemutatnom az elso Shakespeare forditasok hatteret hisz minden Magyar oktatasban reszesult ember – s aki erti amit irok – hallott mar a Kisfaludy irodalmi tarsasagrol, a Segesvari csataban eltunt Petofi Sandorrol vagy a Kiegyezesrol.  Azonban megis szeretnem megemlitenem Tomori Anasztaz nevet, aki oly sokat aldozott a magyar tudomany, muveszet es irodalom ugyeben, s Arany Janosnak irt leveleben szorgalmazta es finanszirozta Shakespeare Osszes muveinel megfizetheto forditasat.

Hungarian translations
A selection of Hungarian translations

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