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Korean Midsummer Night’s Dream shows off the glory of translation

As part of the Cultural Olympiad, Shakespeare’s Globe are performing 37 plays in 37 languages. Kerry Lambeth author of the Globe to Globe Shakespeare blog went to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Korean, and tells us what it was like to experience the Bard in another language.

A pig, rather than a bottom. Twins, rather than a puck. The north, south, east and west stars, rather than four mythological Greeks. And absolutely no Amazons whatsoever.

This week, the Yohangza (“Wanderers”) Theatre Company from South Korea performed “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Shakespeare’s Globe as part of the Globe to Globe theatre festival (running until June 9). The production was wild, riotous and physical: with actors showering exaggerated spit-takes into the audience between acrobatic high kicks, it was closer to a circus than what most people think of as “classical” Shakespeare.

The Yohangza “Dream” was also a perfect illustration of the best of literary translation and adaptation.

Let’s be honest: no one would put “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” forward as one of Shakespeare’s best plays. It’s light, whimsical and very funny in places – but it also carries a lot of dead weight in the shapes of Theseus and Hippolyta, the Athenian king and his Amazon fiancée, and the comic relief of the “rude mechanicals”.

Yohangza stripped out these characters and sub-plots and gave the play a Korean folklore makeover. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was magically transformed into a tight, screamingly funny comedy. It was unquestionably the best production of the Globe to Globe festival so far – and that’s under stiff competition, particularly from a Hindi Twelfth Night and a Greek Pericles.

The other Globe to Globe productions seen so far have translated the language and stories of Shakespeare, without adapting the plays very much to reflect the home culture of the company. (The one exception was the successful Maori-language “Troilus and Cressida”, which transplanted the story to the 19th-century New Zealand Land Wars.) In contrast, Yonghaza’s “Dream” radically changed the play, renaming every character to reflect Korean jokes and culture, swapping the characters of Titania and Oberon, and changing Bottom’s famous transformation into a donkey to an old woman turning into a pig.

By translating Shakespeare into Korean culture as well as the Korean language, Yonghaza created a totally unique, memorable theatrical experience. This week’s performance was a resounding success: the perfect culture clash.

Here’s a complete list of all the translated Shakespeare plays and when they’re being performed.

Photo credit: Shakespeare’s Globe.

 

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