So, this post is my answer to the Happy Birthday Shakespeare project, in which bloggers are invited to celebrate Will’s 450th birthday by posting about how his works impacted on their lives.
First things first, let me link to this thing I posted back in January, about my first Shakespeare ever. It is relevant to what I want to say. It tells how my very first Macbeth was an initiation. It was more than a little of a shock, too, and it marked eras in my perception of theatre: Before Macbeth, and After Macbeth.
And yet, it didn’t make me like it all of a sudden. It did not turn me into a rabid Shakespearian overnight. It didn’t even make me love English. That would be years later, and through another writer – who, ironically enough, hadn’t even been a native speaker. But it doesn’t matter now – or it only does in that my first impact with Shakespeare was through translations.
And my second, and third, and fourth…
It would be years before my English allowed me to appreciate Will’s works in the original, so I had to make do with translations, most of which were… well.
Let me state here that, much as I love to translate, my faith in literary translation is scant. Too many things are lost in the process, too many hues, and nuances, and shades, and implied meanings just cease to exist the moment you try to turn them into another language… And Shakespeare’s English, this rich, iridescent language that was incandescently moulding itself at the time, just has no equivalent in Italian.
I didn’t realise this back then, but the fact is, there are several Italian translations of Shakespeare’s works, often clever and accurate, I’m sure, but… but. I read them, I saw them played onstage, I liked the stories, but the translation was always there like a sheet of slightly opaque glass, dulling, dimming the experience.
Add to that the exasperating schoolbook habit of presenting any and every remarkable artist as a lonely star, shining and floating in a sort of vacuum…
So yes, I knew I should like Shakespeare, and indeed, did like his plays, but always had this disconcerting impression I should have liked him more. Somehow, I missed the vibrancy, and was left guessing at the power of the words.
Frustrating. Very much.
And then I learned English. I fell in love with the language, and never turned back. I started reading in English when I was eighteen, and within a few years I shyly tried my hand at Elizabethan English – both in reading and onstage – and found I loved it. It, and the time and place that had prompted this sort of language, this sort of theatre… History I’d always loved. Starting to read about Elizabethan England was a sort of homecoming. For some reason, I still cannot open a book – novel, essay, play – connected with Elizabeth’s time without feeling at home – and the more I read about the time, the life, the people, the more I understood and appreciated the plays.
So, no – it wasn’t perhaps love at first sight, but a love it was. A slow, long one, rooted in language and in history as much as in theatre, which is perhaps, in part, why it lasts the way it does.