World Shakespeare Festival Presents 37 Plays by the Bard in 37 Languages: Watch Them Online

I’ve seen Shake­speare per­formed all over the coun­try, from Cen­tral Park to Gold­en Gate Park, and in every kind of adap­ta­tion imag­in­able. By far, the most mem­o­rable per­for­mance for me was a Noh stag­ing of Oth­el­lo, in Japan­ese, with masks and haunt­ing cho­rus. I didn’t under­stand a word of it, but I spent the entire per­for­mance riv­et­ed by the cul­ture shock of watch­ing a play I knew so well trans­formed by a cul­tur­al vocab­u­lary I didn’t. While I’ve some­times bris­tled at best-sell­ing lit­er­ary crit­ic Harold Bloom’s seem­ing­ly banal claims about Shakespeare’s “uni­ver­sal genius,” I can­not deny that the Bard’s work seems to trans­late across time and space with­out a loss of its incred­i­ble pow­er and pathos.

Shake­speare-lovers in Lon­don this past spring were treat­ed to a sim­i­lar expe­ri­ence as mine, mag­ni­fied by 37. As part of the mas­sive World Shake­speare Fes­ti­val, the Globe to Globe project pre­sent­ed an unprece­dent­ed oppor­tu­ni­ty for the­ater­go­ers to see all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays per­formed in 37 dif­fer­ent lan­guages at the bard’s own the­ater, the Globe. The plays (watch them here) were staged by some of the world’s top the­ater direc­tors, with over six-hun­dred actors from “all nations” and attend­ed by “audi­ences from every cor­ner of our poly­glot com­mu­ni­ty.” In a time when var­i­ous parts of Europe strug­gle to come to terms with increas­ing­ly mul­ti­cul­tur­al demo­graph­ics, this fes­ti­val was an oppor­tu­ni­ty for a glob­al the­ater fel­low­ship of actors and audi­ences to come togeth­er in mutu­al appre­ci­a­tion and cama­raderie.

The video above gives us a glimpse of sev­er­al cer­e­mo­ni­al, behind-the-scenes moments; before each per­for­mance, a mem­ber of the com­pa­ny sprin­kled alco­hol around the stage as an offer­ing to the god of the­ater and wine, Diony­sus. In a rapid mon­tage, we see a dozen dif­fer­ent actors from var­i­ous plays sprint, skip, dance, and slide across the front of the stage, joy­ful­ly pour­ing liba­tions. After­ward, anoth­er actor releas­es two bal­loons, one labeled The Globe, the oth­er with the company’s name. The pro­duc­tions, all avail­able to view online, are impres­sive not only for their lin­guis­tic range, but also for the range of cos­tum­ing and stage­craft on dis­play. Watch, for exam­ple, Troilus and Cres­si­da in Maori, with a fierce band of Maori war­riors stomp­ing across the stage. Or see The Mer­ry Wives of Wind­sor in Swahili by Nairobi’s Bit­ter Pill Com­pa­ny. To my delight, the Japan­ese pro­duc­tion of Coro­lianus by the Chiten com­pa­ny fea­tures actors in Noh masks. As an added bonus, the Globe to Globe site has audio of actors from the var­i­ous com­pa­nies dis­cussing their expe­ri­ences of the fes­ti­val in both their native lan­guages and in Eng­lish.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

12 Ani­mat­ed Plays by William Shake­speare: Mac­beth, Oth­el­lo and Oth­er Great Tales Brought to Life

Shakespeare’s Satir­i­cal Son­net 130, As Read By Stephen Fry

Impres­sion­ist Does Shake­speare in 25 Celebri­ty Voic­es

Josh Jones is a doc­tor­al can­di­date in Eng­lish at Ford­ham Uni­ver­si­ty and a co-founder and for­mer man­ag­ing edi­tor of Guer­ni­ca / A Mag­a­zine of Arts and Pol­i­tics.


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