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Shakespeare in Hungarian is By Far Superior to the Original Shakespeare

Nobody would dare deny that Hungarian nationalism has taken some rather interesting twists and turns as of late. There are the usual ever so popular crackpot theories.

– Dropped into the Carpathian Basin so our ancestors could travel back East (from whence according to lesser minds, to wit historians, archaeologists, social anthropologists, and other assorted scholars so falsely claim we ventured West) and “educate the semi-savages who came from there.” Apparently, those oh-so-wise and super-virtuous ancestors took those “filthy savages back to the Carpathian Basin to educate them. How they split off (and precisely where, not to mention why), causing one group to travel North, while the other went South will forever remain a mystery.

– Hungarian superiority (in which area exactly? Rubik’s Cube? The Biro? The countless celebrities of Hungarian extraction?) has been proven via the Hungarian language itself , which is so rare that none other like it exists in the world (let’s not draw any attention to that slightly obscure Finno-Ugric convection). Clearly, the Hungarian is neither Slavic nor Germanic (well this, despite many family names pointing to melting pot type mixtures, we can agree on). Ergo, the Hungarian is a superior being (just out of curiosity, what does that make the Basque Nation? Because by this logic, these guys must be not just gods, but actual Masters of the Universe).

– Hungary (along with its Polish brethren) has been charged by God and its own prime minister to uphold Good Old European values: insulation, isolation, and for good measure, another round of insulation (coupled with isolation, because safe is safe). In this vein Hungary should also be a monarchy again, according to the hardliners at least (and completely forgetting that European royal houses are the ultimate manifestation of that dreaded cross-culturalism).

But the latest to come out of the right wing corner, the Zsa Zsa Gabor of populist theories if you will, is this: Hungarian translations of Shakespeare by Hungarian treasure János Arany are far superior to anything Shakespeare himself has ever produced, due to the simple fact that Hungarian is such a rich and evocative language. In the words of the populists themselves, .

indeed! And, like with every idiot theory that developed a life of its own, this one, too, is founded on fact. Hungarian is indeed an incredibly rich language. You can swear for at least five full minutes without ever repeating yourself and still leave room for new words. There’s practically no concept that doesn’t have an expression in Hungarian, and a good one at that. To give just one example: a traitor to the nation is known as hazááruló, the first word already rich in meaning and connotation, the home, the hearth, the place where one gladly puts one’s weary head. Followed by the ever so harsh áruló, the one selling his wares, but not in a good way, the mercenary.

But even in translation Hungary has proven its worth. Synchronization aside – in which I’m told (and have no problem believing) that Hungary has repeatedly taken first place – who else could render a near-perfect translation of that much beloved, albeit short-lived ’90s toy, the Tamagotchi by simply naming it zsebi bébi. That the last word is it self a translation of the English baby, only makes it more genius. Zseb means pocket, adding the “i” makes it a diminutive, the way a small child would say it, or the Tamagotchi itself.

I can’t abide Shakespeare. He stole from every available source, never giving credit (though I’ll concede that he did have a way with words). And even for me this is too much. I have no doubt that the translations of Arany were vastly superior to those of many of his peers, but to claim that they were better than the original without knowing anything of the original language is really pushing the envelope.

Sure, to a Hungarian ear the translation will sound pleasing. But why not say that Arany did a helluva job  with his translations? Why not concede that he managed to convey the concepts of Shakespeare to the people of the Hungarian nation? Because that would mean to acknowledge an interaction of cultures. Not only that, but it would speak of a deep understanding of and among two vastly different European nations. And we couldn’t possibly have that happen now, could we? Europe must stay true to its values,  must desperately maintain that holy trinity: insulation, isolation, combination (of the first two). Ah but there is that pesky dreaded word again, combination. We couldn’t possibly have that now, could we.

This post first appeared on Helsinki-Budapest, please read the originial post: here

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Shakespeare in Hungarian is By Far Superior to the Original Shakespeare


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