universal shakespeare


The same idea came up in a number of the seminar papers presented by a significant contingent of Eastern European scholars at the conference. Zdenek Stríbrný, from Charles University in Prague, gave an especially interesting paper on “Shakespeare as Liberator—Macbeth in Czechoslovakia.” He pointed out that Macbeth has been popular among the Czechs almost from the beginning. The first translation of the play into Czech was published in Prague in 1786. The Czechs in fact made Macbeth their own and in general turned to Shakespeare as a way of establishing their legitimacy as a culture. In their efforts throughout the 19th century to translate Shakespeare, as Stríbrný writes, “they wanted to prove to the whole nation and the world that the Czech language was capable of coping with the highest achievements of European culture, even though it was, by that time, practically abandoned by higher society and spoken only by common people.” (As part of the Habsburg Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Czechs were forced to use German as the official language of business, politics, and high culture for much of the 19th century.) In short, the Czechs did not regard Shakespeare’s plays as something imposed on them. Rather they embraced these foreign works as a way of cultivating their own identity and freeing themselves from the hegemony of German culture.

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