Romanian Hamlet: Translated Shakespeare as Soft Power for the Post-Communist Nation

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Although the Iron Curtain fell thirty years ago, Romania remains an ideological battlefield where proponents of neo-Communism, New Nationalism, and Western European assimilation compete for influence over the nation’s future. A member of NATO since 2004 and of the European Union since 2007, Romania does not enjoy full privileges within the EU Schengen Area or Eurozone. Resorting to soft power to credentialize with the West and escape the shadow of Soviet Russia, Romania has found Shakespeare a hospitable means of influence through new translations—the Opere Series. This series transforms creative artifacts into assimilative political tools in much the way Joseph Nye has described soft power functioning through co-optive persuasion. But when Romania adopts the cultural product of another nation for soft influence, what are the ethics and casualties of that transaction? The Opere Hamlet (2016, trans. George Volceanov) appropriates Shakespeare to initiate a new phase in its EU membership and sever ties with Mother Russia. However, those aims operate at cross-purposes as an anxiety over authority emerges through the text’s scholarly apparatus and a sexist ideology lurks in the treatment of Ophelia. A taxonomic reading of the footnotes identifies three categories: notes that link Romania with the scholarship of the West, “correct” the contamination of the text by Communist-era translators, and provide the explanations typical of instructional editions. The editors (Violeta Popa and Volceanov) infrequently spotlight material that would locate Hamlet within a distinctly Romanian literary and performance history. In addition, even as the publication of the Opere Hamlet signals a progressive Romania, a residual patriarchalism persists in the infantilizing representation of Ophelia and her songs. Thus, this particular use of Shakespeare as soft power comes at the expense of an indigenous literary history and normalizes, through the authority of the English poet, the gender inequalities of Romania’s past and political present.

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Shakespeare and Cultural Appropriation

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