Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s preface to Shakespeare’s Macbeth

Original preface of Macbeth – Praveshika (Hindi) written by Dr Harivansh Rai Bachchan, translated into English by Manish Prasad.

In presenting the famous play, Shakespeare’s Macbeth in poetic translation for the Hindi readers, I am feeling immensely happy and proud. Moreover; in Hindi this is the first poetic translation of Shakespeare which is going to be published.

In relation to Shakespeare’s life, poetry and plays so much has been written. So much work is going on, and so much can still be written that one who decides to write on him has to maintain a lot of patience. I will try that this preface must be as brief as possible.

Shakespeare (1564-1616) is considered as the greatest poet and playwright of the English language. Many scholars think of him as the greatest poet and dramatist of European Literature and of World literature as well. I have no problem to comment on those scholars and even if I try to do so, it would be a meaningless venture. However, in the form I have understood him, I think I must express here clearly. I believe that Shakespeare is the greatest boon of the Western Civilisation to the World.

Probably there are about forty plays written by him – perhaps because some scholars think that some of those are not written by him. May be he had done some research work or edited or had helped in writing those plays to some extent. Among them there are thirty seven plays – tragedy, comedy, histories, tragic-comedy and more. Shakespeare had seen that in life, happiness and sadness are related to each other and one can rise even above them.

“With different happiness and different sadness life takes its form”. The differences, grandness and conflicts in life are the levels to measure the plays of Shakespeare.

Among these thirty seven plays the highest place is given to his four tragedies, Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, and King Lear. From some point of view or the other, the critics always try to prove any one better than the others. I am very pleased to admit that those Hindi readers who do not know English, have been able to appreciate Macbeth in the form of poetic play because of me.

The Indians became familiar with Shakespeare with the establishment of British Rule and the spread of English education. It was quite usual that there would be a desire to translate Shakespeare’s play. Bengal came first under the impact of the English rulers. Bengali language has immense potential. As far as I know, the first translation of Shakespeare’s plays was done in Bengali, and later in other languages.

Even after having little knowledge of English, Bharatendu Harishchandra was attracted to Shakespeare. He translated Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice under the title Durlabh Bandhu [in Hindi]. Before him Babu Baleshwar Prasad B.A translated the story of this play under the title Venice ka Saudagar, which was based on Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare. 

In the later part of the nineteenth century, Jaipuri Gopinath Purohit translated Romeo and Juliet under the name of Prem Lila and Badrinarayan Chaudhury’s brother Mathura Prasad translated Macbeth as Sahsendra Sahash and Hamlet as Jayant and published them. I have not received the opportunity to read them. If anyone would be able to provide it to me than I would be obliged. I think that in these translations particularly the style of Durlabh Bandhu has been followed.

The tradition to tell the plot of a drama in story-form was carried forward by Ganga Prasad M.A. and in the third decade of this century these stories was published by the Indian Press, Prayag. Few months before, I have seen somewhere in an advertisement that one lady has presented the plays of Shakespeare in the form and style of stories.

In the third decade of this century Lala Sitaram B.A has published the translation of some of Shakespeare’s plays and Macbeth was one among those. His translations are in prose, although Shakespeare wrote his play in poetic-prose form. I would like to call these translations as Chayaanuvad. However, the very art of presenting the translation of Shakespeare’s play into Hindi as closest to the original primarily goes to Lala ji, Bharatendu and his followers in fact changed the environment and settings of the plays into Indian.

Around 1930, I had also read a translation of Shakespeare’s Othello into Hindi. I forget the name of the translator. This translation was done by Lala ji. This was also in prose. If any reader of this stanza would provide any knowledge or news of this translation or if one could send a copy of this translation, I shall be obliged.

In case any other Shakespeare’s plays has been translated into Hindi, then I am not familiar with it. *(NOTE: When the translation of Macbeth is sent for publication, I came to knew that Dr Rangeya Raghav has already translated in prose around one dozen plays of Shakespeare into Hindi which is under publication at Rajpal and Sons, Delhi. When I started my translation, I had no knowledge about his translations. Probably it proves that Shakespeare is back in the environment of Hindi).

The very thought of translating Shakespeare’s plays into Hindi was first introduced to me by the famous actor Mr. Balraj Sahani and his wife Mrs. Santosh Sahani. They thought that the simple and pictorial language my poetry has is perfect for the translation of the play. I had read and taught many of Shakespeare’s plays, and if I was to translate them I needed to see their performances also. I got this opportunity during my stay in England; but there not a single stanza was translated. When I returned from England, Mrs. Sahani once again wrote a letter in this context. When Mr. Sahani met, he requested me once again. On the other hand Delhi’s Sahitya Akademi in their project of translating foreign literature into Hindi, had already mentioned one play of Shakespeare under my name. At the same time, I was called for the special task by the Indian Government to have some more skill, I wanted to translate a classical English text into Hindi, for the very purpose of practice.

Such an interest [I] had developed that if the mind started to fly from Earth then it only stopped after reaching the sky. Shakespeare came into the mind. In the World Literature, Shakespeare has his own place, and even if we stop thinking on this, it can be said without any contradiction that his works are the backbone of English language and literature. If there is any other text which has the vigour to stand parallel to it, it is the Bible. Any English writer who is not inspired by him than certainly that writer must have produced his work before his arrival. To translate the Bible into its present form, I had to take birth from the womb of a Christian mother. I decided to begin my translation from any one of Shakespeare’s plays.

I decided upon Macbeth, which from a translator’s point of view seemed to me the most difficult work. If I am successful, then probably I would be able to translate the other plays of Shakespeare as well; and if I fail, then the very desire to translate the other plays has to be given up. Translation has been completed, and it is under publication. And now the people would decide, how it has been done.

As I have already mentioned, some plays of Shakespeare were translated into Hindi prose. But this play was written in poetic form, and I believe that until these plays are translated into poetic form, the poet who is residing in it, cannot be saved. We should not forget that Shakespeare is not only a great playwright but also a great poet, and his poetry is scattered throughout his plays. The house of mirrors which he has built with his poetry could be dismantled into pieces if it is rendered into prose. I took an oath that I would translate it into poetic form.

Shakespeare’s meter in English is called the ‘Blank Verse’. It has natural rhythms but unrhymed lines, which is called ‘Iambic Pentameter’. English language has its own special flavour, because of its focus on natural rhythm, there is a huge chance of difference in the lines. After taking some amount of freedom its differences can be increased further. Blank Verse is the basic meter of English poetry. 

Before beginning my translation the biggest problem I had to find out a meter in Hindi which can stand parallel to the Iambic Pentameter, having the strength to translate and express all the things that Shakespeare presented in his lines. And after shifting the focus from the outer literal structure, drenched in meaning, when I tried to express it through Hindi as its medium, it took the form of twenty four syllabic meter, which is probably called ‘Rola’. And now when I have translated a whole play of Shakespeare into ‘Rola’ meter, then only I have the courage to say that this meter has the hypnotising power, because Hindi language has its own special blend, with its primary focus on punctuation. There is a limit of differences in the poetic-stanzas and one cannot take any amount of space. Suppose in one stanza freedom is taken the rhythm, then in the second stanza one has to sacrifice it. But we cannot fight with the nature of language. Sanskrit is punctual, Persian is punctual, and in both these languages great plays and poetry have been created. Inspite of having punctual limitations, Hindi poetic stanzas have the capacity of rendering high and pure poetic qualities; however, I am not going to give any evidence for it. 

In any language’s greatest work, there is a parallel relation between its word and meaning, *****(gira) and meaning like it is between water and seed. Translation has to take the meaning and leave the word and has to implement that meaning into the word of another language. While practicing I noticed that the amount of meaning Iambic Pentameter can carry in one line, to carry the same meaning ‘Rola’ has to use one or one and half, and somewhere two lines. By adding eight more punctuations in the lines of ‘Rola’, this difference could have been reduced, but for some reason I thought it incorrect. Shakespeare’s plays are meant for the performance and the audience does not counts the lines.

There are many reasons for it. The meaning is not limited to what is told to the school students. For me it also includes the ‘Rasa’. Secondly, writing little and understanding more – more is meant than what the ears listen – is only possible in a very resolute, mature and progressive language. In comparison to Shakespeare’s English, modern Hindi is a new language. There is no surprise that the things which English expresses in fewer words, Hindi needs more words to tell. There are other things for Hindi to be proud of – its freshness, its newness; not resolute and mature. In such circumstances, expecting equality only in lines would be unfair of the meaning. I have paid attention to the fact that if something unfair takes place, it may happen in case of words only, and not with the meaning.

Today Shakespeare’s plays are read thousand times more than they are actually seen by the audience. There might had been a possibility that the vision of translation would have based on the readers only. I thought this vision as unhealthy. Shakespeare’ plays were written only for performance, and at the present time also its’ liveliness can only be appreciated on the stage. I have translated from this believe that it would also be enacted someday on the stage.

It is necessary that to see the performance of Shakespeare’s play on the stage, the audience will have to enter the gallery with new expectations. Whatever progress Hindi plays have achieved, it is only in the form of prose plays. It would be primarily a new endeavour to recite poetry on theatrical stage.

In Kavi Samelan now a days, poetry recitations in Mukt Chhand can be heard. People are learning to get pleasure from it. If these works are recited with full expressionism, than the poet would come in the same category whose perfect form could be visualised in the actors of Shakespeare’s play. The audience will have to come not only to see Shakespeare’s play but also to hear Shakespeare’s poetry. And they would also have to understand that Shakespeare’s plays are not based on the events, but on the characters. Events are used as far as they are needed to show the inner conflict of the character. Whose interests are primarily based on the modern cinema, it is very difficult to understand how much would they respond to Shakespeare’s poetry, versification, and characterisation. However, it always happens that people welcome new things, and this is mostly because they are different from the old. The very name of Shakespeare has the power enough to raise such belief that this newness contains something worthy.

To introduce Shakespeare on theatrical stage, one may begin with the performance of his plays in small parts. There is a huge trend of play-reading and play-recording in England and other European countries. A play is not meant for reading with eyes only, if it cannot be seen than at least it must be heard. Many people may read various characters’ dialogue with expressions and feelings; acting and theatrical stage might be left to imagination. In this way, Shakespeare’s plays’ actors would also be trained. It is quite natural that Shakespeare’s plays would require not only novel audience but also new actors.

If Shakespeare’s plays are translated in abundant numbers and get an acknowledgment of its performance by play-reading then only my dream of a Hindi Shakespeare stage may be materialised. Other poetic plays of English and other languages may also be presented in the form of translation. There is a possibility that moral poetic plays could also be written in Hindi. In our ancient literary tradition, play is considered under the category of poetry. Even if all these things are not done, Shakespeare has the capability of becoming a whole institution by himself.

However, all these are futuristic talks. Now this play is being placed in the hands of the readers. To translate this text, I had four special aims before me translation should not be literal, rather it must appear original, the poetic elm in Shakespeare must be protected; play could be enacted in front of literate audiences, and most importantly goal was the translation must not appear like translation.

When I started to translate Macbeth I had a doubt, whether I would be able to complete the translation and until it was finished there was no one to know about it, except my wife. Before publishing my translation into a book form, I wanted to show it to my friends. But print – script was lesser in comparison to the number of friends, and they were spread in various parts of the country. Only from Sumitranandan Pant and Balraj Sahani, I could get some suggestion that helped me to rectify my translation from the point of view of poetry and acting. Pant ji gave his special time and labour to it. The only unfortunate thing was that we were not able to work together, since he was in Prayag and I was in Delhi. I am very thankful to both of my friends.

The present form in which translation is going to be published, I do not consider it as a final version. It should have been done in another way, firstly it should have been read for various times, then performed for various times, and in this way the final form of this translation would have taken, and that is needed to be published. I am quite sure that the way Shakespeare’s plays were written, those were not published. In those days it was a tradition that after the play was written, it would be acted for various years with the aid of the hand written scripts, and later on that would be published in book form. And after acting for several times the form of the play got changed and became corrected and finalised. No script of Shakespeare’s plays are found written by his own hands. Take the text of Macbeth for instance. First time it was played in the year 1606; in 1616 Shakespeare died and after seven years, i.e. in 1623, the first Folio Edition was published. If, for original play it is necessary that its final form is based on the actors and theatrical stage, then for translation it becomes even more important. However, publication of this is felt necessary, so that the critics of acting and theatrical stage could judge translation from the point of equivalence and creativity, and get it rectified and suggestion from many critiques equally competent in both English and Hindi could be incorporated. Moreover, both play- reading and acting would be done easily with the help of the published texts. All those who are interested in this work, read the published text. All those who are interested in this work, with the help of this Preface I would welcome all of them to read my translation without any bias, point out to me those things which appear improper, tell me what are the mistakes in it, and if possible suggests relevant rectifications needed. With their cooperation I believe that many of the mistakes in my translation would be ridden off. To translate such a great talent as Shakespeare, I think my little knowledge and interest is insufficient. 

For all of my friends who read the translation of Macbeth in manuscripts and liked it and requested me to translate some other plays of Shakespeare, I have a good news. That with their inspiration I have started translating Othello.

At last, I would like to thank everyone who have provided me any sort of help in editing this work.

Source : (L) – Top Yaps; (R) – Bio.com

Harivansh Rai Bachchan, a well-known Hindi poet of Madhusala, is one of the most important Post-Colonial Indian translator and theorist. He translated some of the major British and Irish play writers and poets namely William Shakespeare, Edward Fitzgerald, and W.B.Yeats who belonged to the so called important eras, Elizabethan, Victorian, and Modern into Hindi.

Manish Prasad is a research scholar in the department of English, Kazi Nazrul University, Asansol, West Bengal. His area of research is Translation Studies. At present, he is doing his research on the translations of Dr Harivansh Rai Bachchan.

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