Denver Center for the Performing Arts

Langworthy on translating Shakespeare: First do no harm

February 23, 2016 | by Douglas Langworthy

I’ll never forget the first German-language production of Shakespeare I saw – Troilus and Cressida at the Berliner Ensemble in then East Berlin. And while I can’t tell you that much about the design or the actors, I was struck by how clear the language was. You see, in Germany, Shakespeare gets translated once or twice each generation into contemporary language that sits comfortably in the listener’s ear. Sure, there are famous old-fashioned translations from the Romantic period, but in general, German directors prefer to stage more modern versions of the plays. As a fluent speaker of German, I found in this production that I didn’t have to struggle with archaic language to get through to the meaning of the text, a feeling that was surprisingly liberating.