SHAKESPEARE IN ROUMANIA
by Marcu Beza

CHAPTER VII

WHEN Roumania came to be recognized as an inde­pendent State, her representative at the Court of St. James's was for a long time Ion Ghica, an able states­man and also a writer of repute. Many of his letters to Alexandri, which still make very pleasant reading, are dated from London. He tells in them of his frequent visits to the British Museum, where, as he puts it, "the history of the human genius rolls before one's eyes as in a panorama." In what remains of his private library I found the following amongst other English books: A Biography of Shakespeare, by Charles Knight; The Life and Genius of Shakespeare, by Thomas Kenny; Outlines of the Life of Shakespeare, in two volumes, by J. O. Halliwell-Phillipps; A Shakespearean Grammar, by E. A. Abbott; Schmidt's Shakespeare Lexicon. Such works have been of real use to his sons, Scarlat and Dumitru Ghica, who were educated in England and translated Romeo and Juliet, Richard ILL, The Merchant of Venice, King John, Antony and Cleopatra, and Julius Cćsar.

During the 'sixties and 'seventies a group of young men, newly returned from abroad, where they had com­pleted their studies, founded at Jassy a society called ''Junimea,'' which had subsequently a great and direct bearing on Roumanian literature. Its members used to meet at each other's houses and discuss, or read from, various authors.

At the very first meeting, members were invited to hear the reading of a translation or Macbeth by Peter Carp, who was to become leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister. He published it afterwards, together with another of Othello, in book form. They both had the merit of being written in rather good, clear Roumanian and of having closely followed the original. One of the papers at the time accused him of not having translated the two plays from the original; and the translator, who became later notorious for his jokes, one day entered the offices of the paper. The secretary was there—the translator mumbled for a few minutes in a rather strange tongue, and then said: "Tell your Editor that I spoke to you in English." But how was the poor man to know that he was really speaking English, when he himself could not understand a word of it?

Besides other people who manifested a keen interest in Shakespeare, there was then Eminescu, the foremost representative of Roumanian poetry, who in the artistic embodiment of a pessimistic view of life ranks with Leopardi. His manuscripts, now in the Roumanian Academy, show not only that he was an assiduous reader of Shakespeare but that he even intended to translate the great dramatist. Now and then Eminescu alludes to Shakespearean characters as, for instance, in a fantastic story where he says about the heroine:



MISS FUDULESCU as Viola in Twelfth Night


"It seemed as if the genius of divine Shakespeare had breathed into the world a new moonlight angel, a new Ophelia,'' or his grand picture of King Lear given in a poem called Emperor and Proletarian:

It seemed that through the air, in the starry night,
Pacing on the top of the forest, on the splendour of the waters,
With white beard—on his darkened brow
The straw-crown hanging withered,
Paced on the old King Lear. . . .

There are verses in Eminescu filled to the utmost with a poignant sorrow. And it is Hamlet's soliloquy that entered into his inspiration, when he stood before a beautiful maiden's coffin in Mortua Est:

And then who knows whether it is better
To be or not to be? But every one knows
That what does not exist feels no pains—
While pains in life are many, pleasures, few.
To be? Sad and empty madness:
The ear lies and the eye deceives one.
What one century says, the others unsay—
Better nothing than a pale dream.

I see embodied dreams chasing after dreams,
Till they fall in open, waiting tombs,
And I know not where to draw my thought:
To laugh like fools? To curse, or to cry? . . .

Or when he wrote Midnight Chimes—a rather curious but characteristic poem—where in the crowded com­pactness of six verses he sets forth the same dark, unsolved doubts regarding one's own existence:

Chimes in the midnight, the brazen bell,
And sleep, the customer of life, takes me no custom.
On oft-trodden paths Death wants to bear me,
To choose in weighing life and death together;
But the balance of thought remains still unchanged
And between the two steady stands the tongue.

Apart, however, from any direct influence there are points upon which the two poets meet. Shakespeare repeatedly expresses the belief in the immortality of his Sonnets, in their power to save his cherished friend from death's oblivion. So does Eminescu when addressing the lady of his dreams:

Had you given me a spark
From your mild eye,
In the path of years to come
A star would have been lighted.

You would have lived for ever,
A whole succession of lives,
With your cold-white arms
Marbled in splendour.



GR. MĂRCULESCU as Malvolio in Twelfth Night


Among other Renaissance conceptions Shakespeare emphasized the Platonic one, to the effect that all mundane beauties are but reflections of an immutable, unseen, perfect Beauty. This conception, which prob­ably caught the attention of the Roumanian poet through the reading of Schopenhauer, is evident from his saying that women

                                            are all flattered
To be the shadow of eternal beauty upon earth;

or from the lines:

It is the shadow of everlasting love
That passes in all its might when you pass.

The comparison of life with a stage made by Shakespeare in The Merchant of Venice and in As You Like It is also given by Eminescu, especially in his Glossa:

Other masks, the same play,
Other voices, the same scale.

In this trend of ideas one has also to consider the poetical creation of P. Cerna. He died young while studying at Leipzig. In a book submitted by him as a thesis, under the title of Gedenkenlyrik, he discusses Hamlet's "To be or not to be . . ." from an aesthetic point of view. And there is not a little of Shakespeare in his power of soaring to the higher realms of imagina­tion, where poetry can revel in new, unthought-of similes. For instance, this passage in one of his poems:

When departing, she whispered: "To-morrow! "
But my hand in hers for long remains.
No word broke the sacred silence,
Only from afar answered the whisper
Tunefully, the flute of the nightingale.
To-morrow! That is the murmur of felicity,
Which drives the seconds and moves the stars.
To-morrow! Every corner of the world
Seems full of its echo.
Unroll swifter, O night, On the way to eternity!
Why have I not the wings of the tempest,
To rise up to the multitude of stars
And extinguish them all in turn
With the beating of my wings—
To hasten the dawning of the blessed morrow!

Shakespeare left traces in him which are easily to be detected. Thus in a poem called Separation such verses as:

Şi spus-am ochiului meu trist: Priveşte! . . .
Şi spus-am braţului: Imbrăţişează!

remind one of Romeo's final words in the churchyard:

   . . . Eyes, look your last!
Arms, take your last embrace!