Can Shakespeare’s bawdy jokes and tragic plotlines really transcend language?

At a matinee performance of Richard III at London’s Globe Theatre, the title character’s lamentation “My kingdom for a horse” gets an unexpected laugh. The reason? Two-and-a-half hours into the production, they are the first and only words uttered in English.

The Mandarin production, which is by the National Theatre of China, is among a wave of Asian translations that are refashioning the legacy of Shakespeare. From 17 August at the Globe, ‘The Scottish Play’ will, for a brief run, be ‘The Cantonese Play’ when Hong Kong’s Tang Shu-Wing Theatre Studio performs Macbeth.

It isn’t the first time Shakespeare has been translated, of course. So far, the 21st Century alone has seen Shakespeare performances in Maori, sign language and even, for the benefit of Star Trek fans, Klingon. “People tend to say he is a universal writer. It is more complex than that,” says Andrew Dickson, author of Journeys around Shakespeare’s Globe. “What makes Shakespeare so mobile around the world is that they are hugely flexible texts. There is something in them that you can play around with. You can pull it apart and put it back together again and it still works.”

But is it really possible to simultaneously communicate all of the aspects that make the Bard’s plays great, from rhyme to humour, in a foreign-language version?

Read more: BBC

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