By 2009, SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS Neuer before Imprinted (1609), the most successful volume of poetry next to King David’s Psalms, have been with us four centuries. The initial impact of this modest and enigmatic quarto and its 154 sonnets was not overwhelming and also for the following almost two centuries Shakespeare’s sonnets slept in the limbo of cultural forgetfulness. But then, towards the end of the eighteenth century, they began to explode on the world with an extraordinary sleeper effect, the shockwaves reaching out from England to the Continent and from Europe on to the rest of the world. Now, after another two centuries, it is time to celebrate this extraordinary canonical career. It is time to build a global monument to remind the world of this quatercentenary and to celebrate the power of these sonnets to move their readers across the centuries and continents, in states unborn and accents yet unknown.
Following Shakespeare’s own instructions, a book shall be this monument – a mighty tome, an anthology of translations of his sonnets quite literally “from China to Peru”. For this, Jürgen Gutsch and Manfred Pfister, the only begetters of this project, have assembled a team of more than seventy contributors from all over the world to report on the fortunes of Shakespeare’s sonnets and their cultural presence in all the major and many of the minor languages of the world. There are expert introductions in English to all the languages and cultures in their dialogues with the sonnets, but at the core are the translations themselves, each in its original script, be that Amharic or Cyrillic.
The book aims at shedding some light on the role of translation as “medial transposition” rather than close literal rendering of a source text in a target language as was the ideal of the 19th century. Translation is now mostly considered an art in its own right, creating texts that are more than a surrogate for the original in the source language. The poetical means and the specific discourses of the original trigger, but do not dominate, the poem in translation, and undergo a metamorphosis, at its best, a sea-change into something rich and strange.
The anthology casts a wide net not only in the global range of languages but also in its broad notion of translation, which goes beyond verbal translation from one language into the other and comprises settings to music as well as performances or visual art work stimulated by the sonnets. Therefore, it will include a multimedial archive on CD (or DVD) offering readings by native speakers of all the translations and a choice of musical settings and illustrations and other images. In all this, it demonstrates a particular interest in what is marginal and non-canonical; it does not disregard what is beyond or beneath the official languages – dialect, for instance, or other vernacular varieties, artificial or sign language – nor shy back from the wilder shores of palinode, parody, deconstruction, meaning-bending appropriation and other forms of ‘radical translation’ beyond the fringe of philological faithfulness to, and respect for, the great classic of world literature Shakespeare’s Sonnets have become.