Reza Farkhondeh


It happened that Naser-al Molk, the regent and head of Qajar tribe who was an Oxford graduate, sitting among friends, was questioned about his mastery in English. Talking about the literary complexities of Shakespeare's works, someone said that translation of Shakespeare was impossible. Naser-al Molk who had by then retired from public life, asked for a chance to translate a piece of his work. At night, finding a copy of Othello in his library, he translated the first scene, but his fervor to know the rest of story made him continue to the end of the text. Hence, his translation of Othello was handed to the actors in 1917. Some years later, the same motivations led him to translate The Merchant of Venice. So Shakespeare was the second playwright, after Molière, whose plays were translated into Farsi. 

Naser-al Molk, however, was not the only Qajar educated statesman interested in experimenting with the translation of Shakespeare. Etemad-al Saltaneh, the grandson of Mohammad Shah the Qajar King (October 1834 –September 1848), provided a translation of The Taming Of The Shrew in 1899 that is noteworthy for its accuracy, selection of old prose to represent Shakespeare's language, and suitability for being staged.

With the return of Iranian students who graduated from European universities in dramatic arts, a new wave of drama graduates replaced the Qajar princes and courtesans. The new graduates, who mostly had tendencies to leftist movements, translated and staged Shakespeare along Ibsen and Molière in the 1930s. The pioneer of this group was Abdolhossein Nushin, known as the father of modern Iranian drama, translated Much Ado About Nothing in collaboration with Nima Yushij, the founder of modern Persian poetry. The result was an accurate text that was suitable for the stage. Mahmood Etemadzadeh (known as Beh-Azin) was another leftist who translated Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear in the 1950s.  

Before Etemadzadeh, Masoud Farzad also published a translation of Hamlet, which was more freestyle and meant to be more appropriate for the stage. Farzad's translation of Hamlet, among seven other translations of the text, is a popular one and has been frequently republished up to this date (in fact, its 18th edition was published in summer 2014). Farzad also provided a translation of A Midsummer Night's Dream.  

The successful collaboration of Nushin and Nima Yushij led Abbdolrahim Ahmadi to work with Nader Naderpour, a well-known poet, for translation of Macbeth. This was the last successful collaboration of a translator and a poet in translating Shakespeare. After Ahmadi, two other translations of Macbeth were published; one by Farangis Shadman and the other by Dariush Ashuri. Ashuri's version is considered to be the best standard translation due to his rhythmic sumptuous prose.

None of the above mentioned translators took on the task of translating all of Shakespeare’s oeuvre and were limited to one or two plays. It was Alaeddin Pazargadi who initially published Julius Cesar, Romeo and Juliet and King Lear in separate volumes in the 1960s, and continued by translating all of Shakespeare's tragedies and comedies (excluding historical dramas) in a two-volume collection in the 1990s. In Pazargadi's version, like his predecessors, there was no difference between prose and poetry, but it had the privilege of containing Shakespeare's lesser-known works like Cymbeline, Pericles, Titus Andronicus, Troilus and Cressida. Some years after Pazargadi published a book of commentaries on Shakespeare's works that contained works by Shakespearian scholars such as Samuel Johnson, Coleridge, Hazlitt, and Barker.

There were also other translators who tried to work on the historical dramas of Shakespeare that had so far remained untranslated. Reza Baraheni, a famous writer and critic, translated Richard III which has been used for several performances in Tehran theatres. The other translation of the text was done by Mir Shamseddin Adib Soltani who is known for his unconventional pure Persian prose. Soltani, whose translation of Immanuel Kant is a controversial text, translated Richard III (and then Hamlet) in pure Persian with a distinction between prose and blank verse. His experience is more linguistically important. 

Ahmad Khazai, the only translator who has been engaged in the translation of Shakespeare's historical dramas, published versions of Richard II, Henry IV, and Henry V. The historical dramas that have not been translated into Farsi so far are Henry VI, Henry VIII and King John.  

An overview of the Persian translations of Shakespeare's plays is a long list that includes 8 versions of Hamlet, 5 of Macbeth, 3 of Othello, 3 of Romeo and Juliet, 2 of Timon of Athens, 3 of A Midsummer Night's Dream, 2 of Julius Cesar, and 2 of Anthony and Cleopatra.

The translation of Shakespeare's poetry began soon after Naser-al Molk by Dr. Lotfali Suratgar who published a version of Venus and Adonis in a literary journal, Sepideh-Dam. His translation was so poetically successful that it inspired Iraj Mirza, a famous poet of the Qajar era, to compose his celebrated poem “Zohreh and Manuchehr”. However, after this initial experience, Shakespeare's poems had to wait another 80 years before being translated again. Due to the difference of poetical rhythm and forms, the later translations of Shakespeare's sonnets could only communicate the general themes.

Every year a new translation of Shakespeare into Farsi is published, and each reveals a part of the Persian language’s potency. Just like the night of Naser-al Molk’s gathering, the name of Shakespeare still attracts new translators to rise to the challenge.


above image: book cover of Hamlet, translated to Farsi by M. Etemadzadeh (BehAzin), Doran Publications

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