Internet Shakespeare Editions

Become a FriendSign in


Shakespeare in South Africa: African Appropriations

Shakespeare in South Africa -- page 6

Shakespeare in translation

South Africa has a rich heritage of Shakespearean translations, some 60 in all, approximately half of them into Afrikaans, the remainder in African languages. The African language translations include works in Tsonga, Northern Sotho, Southern Sotho, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu. Some of them are lost, found only in fragments, but the majority awaits further study, adaptation or performance. Among the more famous of these are Sol Plaatje's Tswana translations of A Comedy of Errors (1930) and Julius Caesar (1937) (his translations of The Merchant of Venice, Othello, and Much Ado have been lost); Uys Krige's Afrikaans translations of Twelfth Night (1967) and King Lear (1971), and the seven translations by King Edward Masinga into Zulu in the early 1950s. Breyten Breytenbach produced an Afrikaans translation of Titus Andronicus in 1970; André Brink did Richard III (1969), and Romeo and Juliet (1975), among others.

The motive behind these translations in most cases seems to be a mixture of fascination with Shakespeare by creative writers and a desire to build the cultural authority of the target language by testing it against the blue-chip international standard of Shakespeare. As is well known, under missionary influence translations of the Bible, The Pilgrim's Progress and Shakespeare are staples of early literary development for African languages across Anglophone Africa. Sol Plaatje's Tswana translations undoubtedly extended the range of the language, and are admired even today for their style and cultural deftness (see, for example, Schalkwyk and Lapula (2000); and Seddon (2004). The experience also convinced Plaatje of the importance of creating an adequate Tswana dictionary. Other efforts, so I read, are sometimes stodgy plods through academic literalism (Shole 1990/91). For African languages as a whole, the translation phase can be viewed either as a deviation from indigenous development or a necessary base for the growth of internationalism. Both viewpoints seem to apply, though contemporary South African theatre owes little to Shakespeare.

Afrikaans translations show a similar tension between the literal and the poetic. The groundbreaking translation of Hamlet used by André Huguenet (rendered by Dr L.I. Coertze, and published by Stewart in 1945 with illustrations by Maude Sumner) drew criticism from Christina van Heyningen for offering too plebian a rendering. Idiosyncratically, she championed greater use of Dutch to escape the demotic present, and even questioned the value of translations that might seduce Afrikaans speakers from experiencing the original English (Van Heyningen 1950). Huguenet 1950 gives an account of the text in performance. On the other hand, the Shakespeare translations by Uys Krige are held to be very good indeed. His Lear, one of the works associated with the controversial opening of the Nico Malan opera house in Cape Town (since renamed "Artscape" to sanitise apartheid associations) is a work of art in its own right, even though the 1971 premiere directed by Dieter Reible has been described by J.C. Kannemeyer as "one of the greatest fiascos ever undergone by Afrikaans drama" (trans. L.W.: for further detail see Kannemeyer 583-586).


previous page | Introduction | next page