enpaku 早稲田大学演劇博物館

Michael Dobson

「Words, words, words.––松岡和子とシェイクスピア劇翻訳」

Translating Two Kingdoms through Shakespeare

Michael Dobson

   Once upon a time, and far, far away from each other, there were two island realms. Each was located off the edge of a large continent, and each developed its own distinctive, insular variation on the larger culture of the continent to which it belonged. Each had a continuous history reaching back into the legendary times of gods and heroes, commemorated in stories and songs and anniversaries, and each took pride in the antiquity of its political institutions: both, despite intermittent rebellions, civil wars and other social upheavals, retain sacred monarchies to this very day, their heads of state simultaneously the embodiments of their official national religions. Despite their being about as physically distant as it is possible to be while still remaining on this planet, in both kingdoms ancient traditions of religious observance and ritual evolved over time into mutually-recognizable forms of what we would now call theatre.
For the last half a millennium they have been perhaps the two most stage-struck groups of islands in the world. In one of them – let us call it Japan – reverence is paid to the great theatrical artist Zeami Motokiyo (c.1363-c.1443), whose plays have now been performed to rapt audiences for six hundred years. In the other – for simplicity’s sake let us call it Britain – reverence is paid to the actor, poet, theatrical manager and scriptwriter William Shakespeare (1564-1616), to such an extent that even actors -- among the lowest-ranking of all human creatures -- may be declared Knights, Dames and even Lords and Ladies by the monarch in person if they particularly excel in the performance of Shakespeare’s works. So when the two realms finally became properly aware of one another, only one hundred and seventy years ago, it was inevitable that their respective theatregoers and literary scholars would be able to offer much mutual illumination as they belatedly explored one another’s theatrical traditions and dramatic canons.
   This fairytale-style account of the relationship between Shakespeare and Japan is of course a simplification – not least in that it suppresses the fact that at times the Japanese theatre too experienced the influence of continental European drama, as, for instance, when a diplomatic mission from Azuchi, in the Shiga region, visited Andrea Palladio’s Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza in 1585. But the fact that Anglophone and Japanese scholars find in one another’s native dramatic and literary traditions a fascinating not-quite-mirror, the other’s plays and theatrical practices in some respects apparently familiar but in others so different that the discrepancies call into question the very categories on which the comparison rests, is undeniable.
For Westerners accustomed to the impure, inclusive nature of Shakespearean drama – composed for heterogeneous audiences, moving rapidly between poetry and prose and pathos and comedy as the situation may dictate, and welcoming merchants, gods, clowns and kings alike into the same cast lists – the segregation of Japanese drama into discrete forms (Noh, Kabuki, Kyogen, Bunraku) looks definitely foreign, as does the now-abandoned belief that only Shingeki performers, members of the non-kabuki troupes which emerged in the twentieth century to attempt an imitation of modern Western realist theatre, should meddle with Shakespeare. But at the same time, those studying the conditions under which Shakespeare’s plays were originally performed in England may find Noh stages in Japan eerily reminiscent of their hypothetical reconstructions of the Globe and the Blackfriars. Even more strikingly, the persistence in Japan of the convention by which a particularly category of male performers can take female roles may look like a living fossil of the theatrical era that gave Anglophone drama Shakespeare’s Rosalind and Cleopatra. I remember myself being very struck during a conversation, conducted through an interpreter, with the actor who was at the time playing one of the witches in Yukio Ninagawa’s famous production of Macbeth: ‘of course I want to act more Shakespeare,’ he said, ‘nobody else writes such great roles for onnagata.’
   Japanese scholarship, meanwhile, has been at once rigorously immersed in the conventions of Anglophone scholarship on Shakespeare and usefully estranged from them. While the feat of becoming fluent in Elizabethan English and in learning the routines of Anglophone historical scholarship seemed to be sufficient for an earlier, imitative generation of Japanese academics, some of whose contributions to international journals now read like cautious pastiche, more recent Japanese scholarship has embraced the enlightening difference between Shakespearean drama and Japanese culture that has been dramatized so vividly in the ever-diversifying creative endeavour to translate and adapt the plays for Japanese audiences. Just as Anglophone academia only belatedly acknowledged that studying how Shakespeare’s texts have interacted with the modern world constitutes a legitimate way of coming to understand their very nature, so recent Japanese scholarship has taken cognisance of translation and performance, exploiting the special perspective on the hybrid nature of Shakespearean drama provided by the necessity in Japanese culture to hybridize different native forms in order to adapt it. In this respect it has returned to the example of one of the first great Japanese Shakespeareans, Tsubouchi Shoyo himself, who not only wrote and lectured on Shakespeare but translated and staged his plays, often compelled by the differences between Japanese grammar, prosody and syntax and those of English to invent a new style of Japanese theatrical dialogue as he did so.
   It seems to me, as a Western theatregoer who has been variously moved, delighted, challenged and provoked by a series of encounters with Japanese Shakespeares on the screen and in the theatre over the last thirty years, that one of the great gifts that Japan’s scholars of Shakespeare can give to those outside the country and the culture is further exploration and explication of their country’s achievements as a home for Shakespearean interpretation and experimentation. Among the highlights of my life as a theatre reviewer covering Shakespearean productions in England, including those by visiting companies, between 1999 and 2008 was seeing productions by Yukio Ninagawa – particularly his Pericles, Titus Andronicus, Hamlet and Coriolanus. But I know that when I saw his Richard II at the Craiova International Shakespeare Festival in Romania in 2016, that magnificent production in which the cast were starkly divided along generational lines between his senior company (that wonderful court of synchronized wheelchairs!) and his youth company (that willowy king, languid in his own electric wheelchair, so conscious of his own status that he barely felt the need to speak audibly!), my appreciation of the show’s artistry was much enhanced by my being able to discuss it with a Japanese-speaking doctoral student, Rosie Fielding, who could tell me something of the strategies employed by the translation. (I often wish that the English surtitles provided for non-Anglophone productions would re-translate the play’s translated scripts in an idiom analogous to that chosen by the translator, instead of just reproducing Shakespeare’s words). It was enhanced, too, by her account of the contexts for that compelling show (and in Craiova we gave it an eighteen-minute standing ovation) provided by continuing debates in Japan about the divinity or otherwise of the Emperor, and by contemporary anxieties about the perceived pallor and enervation of Japan’s younger generation. These were aspects of Ninagawa’s interpretation which have continued to inform my own understanding of Shakespeare’s script.
   Meanwhile, the great delight of my professional life over the last few years has been serving on the editorial board of the online Asian Shakespeare Intercultural Archive (http://a-s-i-a-web.org/), and more recently I have been engaged, as one of a team of performance scholars from Singapore, Korea, China and Japan, in the collaborative writing of notes to videorecordings of selected Asian performances of Shakespeare. These have included versions of Othello by the Ku Na’uka company and by the Ryutopia company respectively, and the experience not just of watching these vivid and painful performances in depth but of learning, in dialogue with Japanese and Japanese-speaking scholars such as Michiko Suematsu and Jessica Chiba, about the ways in which the conventions of Noh read Othello and vice versa has been a revelation.
Indeed the entire experience of seeing Shakespearean tragedy re-envisioned within a theatrical tradition in which protagonists are less likely to be seeking in vain to postpone their deaths than to be posthumously re-enacting them yet once more in the hopes of achieving release has extended my sense of what tragedy can be. In the Anglophone tradition Shakespeare’s tragic protagonists may encounter ghosts, but on the Japanese stage they may already be ghosts by the time we even meet them, and this different perspective on the demarcations between life, death and dramatic representation can open Shakespeare’s texts to whole further lines of speculation and enquiry.
   In short, one of the most useful and exciting things Japanese Shakespeare scholarship can do for the rest of the world is to help us, too, to see Shakespeare differently, as Japanese theatre artists have seen him from the outset. In this endeavour the mind-stretching, category-adjusting mental labours of translators will continue to be crucial. Once upon a time there were two island realms, distant in geography and alien in culture: but they were brought into mutually-illuminating dialogue thanks to the plays of William Shakespeare and the collaborative genius of Yukio Ninagawa and Kazuko Matsuoka.
Professor MICHAEL DOBSON is the Director of the Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham.
He has taught at Oxford, Harvard, the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Birkbeck, University of London. His publications include Shakespeare and Space (edited with Cong Cong, Yilin Press, 2019), Shakespeare and Amateur Performance: A Cultural History (Cambridge University Press, 2011), and Performing Shakespeare’s Tragedies Today: the Actor’s Perspective (Cambridge University Press, 2006). He is a trustee of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, an Honorary Governor of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and is on the editorial board of the online Asian Shakespeare
Intercultural Archive (http://a-s-i-a-web.org/).

Japanese Translation Rieko ISHIBUCHI
RIEKO ISHIBUCHI is Assistant Professor of the Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum, Waseda University. She obtained her PhD at Tokyo Woman’s Christian University in 2020. Her research interests lie in early modern literature and culture, especially Shakespeare’s works and women’s writing. Her publications include ‘The Act of Speaking in Urania and Volpone: From the Viewpoints of Cross-Cultural Awareness and Gender’ in The Green Fuse and the Green Garden: Festschrift in Honour of Hiroto Iwanaga (2020) and ‘The Unmarried Characters in Mary Wroth’s Love’s Victory and Shakespeare’s As You Like It’ (2013). She is teaching at Waseda University, Chuo University and Tokyo Woman’s Christian University.