SHAKESPEARE IN ROUMANIA
by Marcu Beza

ARISTIDE DEMETRIAD in Hamlet


CHAPTER V

I THUS come to Hamlet. Professor Gollancz in his book of deep and fruitful research, The Sources of Hamlet, gave us the Icelandic folk-tale of Bjarm which he considers to be "nothing but a levelling down of the story of Hamlet."1 A version of the same tale, even more characteristic, I think, exists also in Roumania, and it has been recently published by Moses Gaster in Studies and Texts2 under the title of "The Story of Pavăl, the Fool who as much as he was a fool so much was he also wise." He feigned folly, indeed, to such an extent that he obtained from the king a decree that no one in the whole country should have the right to drive away the flies but himself, and at last, just like Bjarm, he married the king's daughter.

Moreover, Hamlet opens up the question of the supernatural in Shakespeare and with it a whole vista into the realm of folk-lore.   The ghost in his awe striking appearance, the croaking of the raven on Macbeth's castle, the far more ominous shrieking of the owl, the gathering of the lunar fluid, the witches, their weird dance round the cauldron, the very elements that entered into the making of that potent spellóall are part of living and deeply-rooted beliefs among the Roumanians. It has been said that the wood near Athens in A Midsummer Night's Dream is in reality an English wood. It might all the more be a wood in Roumania, where the fairies still wander in peace and no cold scepticism, no smoke or roar of engines has arrived as yet to scare them away. Even creatures like Ariel and Caliban in The Tempest are not alien to folk≠lore: they have their equivalent in our Spiridush and Tartacot with all their features respectively, intensified of course by Shakespeare and heightened to symbolical meanings; whilst the magical frame within which they move occurs more than once in Roumanian fairy-tales. "The emperor had a daughter," begins one of them. "He kept her shut up in a castle. And this castle was built in the middle of the sea. . . ."3

Instead of the island there is sometimes a palace with extensive gardens full of enchantments, where a wizard-king keeps his daughter under guard.   When a suitor comes, the king submits him to a number of trials before consenting to the marriage.


MISS AGEPSINA MACRI as Lady Macbeth


As for Romeo and Juliet and Othello, I remember that when a boy on the mountains of Macedonia I heard them told as fairy-tales without Shakespeare's name being mentioned. Both here and in Roumania they were long, no doubt, spread either by word of mouth or through popular books introduced from the Levant. They could not have been seen on the stage. Up to a very late date these parts of the world were altogether cut off from the West. Nor had any of the English touring companies ever ventured farther than Poland and Austria. One has on record only the name of a certain Chapman, who in 1850 was engaged in a provincial Roumanian town to give some displays of acrobatic gymnastics.




1 Vol. ii, pp. 1176-86, London, 1925-8.
2 pp. 70-78, London, 1926.
3 Basme Aromne, by P. Papahagi, p. 351, Bucharest, 1905.