As scholars now often insist that the “Dark Lady” of Shakespeare’s sonnets was Jewish, it is no surprise that two Israelis have offered a new translation into Hebrew – where many feel the poems truly belong!
With the perfect of timing of old stage pros, Avi Hasner and Gail Hareven have produced their work in near tandem with next year’s Globe Theatre Shakespeare Festival in London and the release of the film, Anonymous, which claims that the works were written by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford.
The work, edited by Haim Pesach and published by the Dvir Press, is a markedly original production as the authors are most unlikely partners.
Dr Hasner, deputy director of Ichilov Hospital, Tel Aviv, opened the first AIDS clinic in the United States and then another at Ichilov on his return home.
Gail Hareven’s background is quite different: Her mother is the Polish-born writer and journalist Shulamit Hareven while her father Aluf Hareven, born in Haifa and for many years in Israeli military intelligence, has become known for his work in promoting human and civil rights for Arab Israelis.
Hasner had worked on the translation for three years before he met Hareven through a mutual friend. Despite their professional clashes, they share a uniquely ‘Jewish’ view of Shakespeare:
Hareven suggests Shakespeare and the biblical Song of Songs attributed to King Solomon are the cultural basis upon which humanity learned to love.
“…I fell in love with the text in a way that was like being possessed by a dybbuk (demon). You’re completely overwhelmed; it’s as if an alien force completely takes over your brain. Diving into a line is a meditative experience,” she says.
Adds Hasner: “He is without a doubt the greatest artist who ever lived. It’s always fun to read him and to go back and read him again.”
Israel will be represented at the Globe Theatre Festival where, unsurprisingly, the actors from the Habima Theatre expect to face a barrage of protests when they perform The Merchant of Venice in Hebrew. But Habima producer Rut Tonn is pleased that the Palestinian Ashtar Theatre Company will be there to perform Richard II.
“It’s a blessing that we can both take part,” said Ms Tonn. “We are always looking for collaborations which will help with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict … It’s a very obvious choice – and the challenge now is to work on a production within the Globe’s traditional set and lighting.”
So if celebrating one of the most esteemed “first Elizabethans” is deemed part of the festivities for the Diamond Jubilee of the second, then Israelis have made a head-start.
Indeed, the efforts in scholarship and drama are being accompanied by an outstandingly original flute and guitar ensemble, Paul and Marcie Forrest.
Marcie, an American who is a classically-trained singer, and her U.K.-born husband perform as “Footsteps” – providing a thrilling fusion of renaissance, baroque, and folk music. Their programmes may include songs from Shakespeare with works by his (near) contemporaries John Dowland and Henry Purcell, but also span modern “greats” like The Beatles and Joni Mitchell.
I ache to know what would happen should they meet Hasner and Hareven: A double marriage of true minds? A classic Shakespearean comedic denouement if ever I read one?