The German Shakespeare Part One

 “Sein oder nicht sein.  Das ist hier die Frage.”- from Shakespeare’s Hamlet

  Founded 1864 in Weimar, Germany,  die Deutsche Shakespeare-Gesellschaft, is the oldest Shakespearean society in the world.

Shakespeare invaded Germany in the 1700s when English actors traveled across the Channel to perform his works.  According to the  website, to this day, Shakespearean plays are showcased, and attended,  more in Germany than in Great Britian.  Neuss, Germany even boasts a replica of the Globe Theatre.

And so how does the Bard compare in the two languages?

From MacBeth:

First Witch

When shall we three meet again
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?

Second Witch

When the hurlyburly’s done,
When the battle’s lost and won.

Third Witch

That will be ere the set of sun.

First Witch

Where the place?

Second Witch

Upon the heath.

Third Witch

There to meet with Macbeth.

First Witch

I come, Graymalkin!

Second Witch

Paddock calls.

Third Witch



Fair is foul, and foul is fair:
Hover through the fog and filthy air.


First Witch 1. Hexe.
Wenn kommen wir drey uns wieder entgegen,
In Donner, Blizen oder Regen?

2. Hexe.
Wenn das Mordgetuemmel schweigt,
Und der Sieg den Aufruhr beugt

When the hurly-burly’s done,
When the battle’s lost and Won.}

3. Hexe.
Also, eh der Tag sich neigt.

1. Hexe.
Nennt den Ort!

2. Hexe.
Die Heide dort.

3. Hexe.
Dort gehn wir Macbeths wegen hin.

1. Hexe.
Ich komm, ich komme, Grimalkin–

2. Hexe.
Padok ruft–wir kommen schon.

Auf, und durch die Nebel-Luft davon!

and this siloquey from Lady Macbeth: 

O, never  
  Shall sun that morrow see!  
  Your face, my thane, is as a book where men  
  May read strange matters. To beguile the time,  
  Look like the time; bear welcome in your eye,  
  Your hand, your tongue: look like the innocent flower,  
  But be the serpent under’t. He that’s coming  75
  Must be provided for: and you shall put
This night’s great business into my dispatch;
  Which shall to all our nights and days to come  
  Give solely sovereign sway and masterdom.


O nimmer soll die Sonne diesen Morgen sehn!  Euer Gesicht, mein
Than, ist wie ein Buch, worinn man gefaehrliche Dinge lesen koennte.
Heisst euer Gesicht aussehen, wie es die Zeit erfordert; traget
freundlichen Willkomm in euern Augen, auf eurer Zunge, in eurer
Hand; seht wie die unschuldige Blume, aber seyd die Schlange unter
ihr.  Geht, und sorget fuer die Aufnahme dessen der kommen soll, und
ueberlasset meiner Sorge das grosse Geschaefte dieser Nacht, welches
allen unsern kuenftigen Tagen und Naechten die ungetheilte und
unumschraenkte Herrschaft geben soll.

 Lady MacBeth by John Singer Sargent

Published in: on April 3, 2011 at 5:50 pm  Comments (13)  
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13 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I had never even thought about Shakespeare being translated into other languages. My German isn’t good enough to appreciate the Bard in that language, I’m afraid. How do you like him auf Deutsch?

  2. I think the strong sound of German adds an extra oomph to Shakespearean drama. However, on the negative side, German is hurt by its strict rules of precision. You can’t play with German the way you can with English.

    If you just look at the brilliance of: “When shall we three meet again?”

    compared to: “Wenn kommen wir drey uns wieder entgegen”

    direct translation: When come (verb must be in second place), we three us again meet (all verbs after the first one must be at the end of the sentence) Plus, say that line out loud. It has nothing of the cadence of the original.

  3. Better in the original Klingon? I mean German?

    I’m betting that what it loses in translation it gains in the passion of the peformers and the audience.

  4. Spiffy post! Too bad I’m not doing a read along of Hamlet right now. I think I would have to be rather fluent in German to really appreciate the differences between the way he played with words in English and how that translates into a different language. I think the translation would have been an extremely arduous task, given how he didn’t exactly follow the standard English sentence structure.

    Great post, and oh-so-timely with my own! 🙂

  5. Languages are so beautiful, and Shakespeare is incredible. I love those lines from Macbeth you posted above.

  6. Hee hee! Ralfast, the Bard has indeed been performed in Klingon. 🙂

    And I agree totally with what you said. I’d love to hear some of his dramas performed in German, especially Macbeth, Hamlet, and King Lear.

  7. “I think the translation would have been an extremely arduous task, given how he didn’t exactly follow the standard English sentence structure.”

    indeed! And this is what I meant about the playfulness of English vs the strict precision of German. Translations can always be difficult, nuanses lost, but in this case, their strict rules hurt more when trying to translate someone like Shakespeare who had so much fun playing around with English.

    And yes, I really liked your post on Shakespeare. Will you be doing more? I plan on making April Shakespeare month in celebration of his birthday.

  8. Thank you so much, Brownpapergal!

    I think for next week’s post, I will look into comparing one of his comedies in both languages.

  9. I actually liked it in German. It sounded strong and felt good.

  10. Heya Starting Over,

    I liked how you put it, “it felt good”.

    Now I want to see if I can find a full performance of one of his works in German on dvd.

  11. If you do please let me know:)

  12. We once had a cast member say the dreaded words inside the theatre. I kid you not, we had to postpone opening night because at dress rehearsal another cast member fell off the stage and broke a rib. Yike.

  13. *giggles*

    Colby, that is too funny!

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