Tsubouchi Shōyō and the Beauty of Shakespeare Translation in 1900s Japan

Open access


In a recent study of Shakespeare translation in Japan, the translator and editor Ōba Kenji (14)1 expresses his preference for the early against the later translations of Tsubouchi Shōyō (1859-1935),2 a small group of basically experimental translations for stage performance published between the years 1906 and 1913; after 1913, Shōyō set about translating the rest of the plays, which he completed in 1927. Given Shōyō’s position as the pioneer of Shakespeare translation, not to mention a dominant figure in the history of modern Japanese literature, Ōba’s professional view offers insights into Shōyō’s development that invite detailed analysis and comparison with his rhetorical theories. This article attempts to identify what Shōyō may have meant by translating Shakespeare into elegant or “beautiful” Japanese with reference to excerpts from two of his translations from the 1900s.

Drakakis, John, ed. The Arden Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice. London: Methuen Drama, 2010.

Gallimore, Daniel. “Shōyō, Sōseki, and Shakespeare: Translations of Three Key Texts.” Japan Women’s University Faculty of Humanities Journal 59 (2010): 41-61.

Gallimore, Daniel. “Smelling a Rat: Towards a Corpus Linguistic Approach to Tsubouchi Shōyō’s Hamlet Translations (1909/1933).” Sheikusupia no hirogaru sekai: jidai baitai wo koete ‘miru’ tekusuto (The Text Made Visible: Shakespeare on the Page, Stage and Screen). Ed. Fuyuki Hiromi and Motoyama Tetsuhito. Tokyo: Sairyūsha, 2011. 77-100.

Inouye, Charles Shirō. Evanescence and Form: An Introduction to Japanese Culture. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

Irokawa Daikichi. The Culture of the Meiji Period (Meiji no bunka). Trans. Marius B. Jansen. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988.

Kawatake Toshio. Nihon no “Hamuretto” (Hamlet in Japan). Tokyo: Nansōsha, 1972.

Kobayashi Kaori. “Between East and West: Tsubouchi Shōyō’s Production of Hamlet in 1911.” Renaissance Shakespeare: Shakespeare Renaissances. Ed. Martin Procházka, et al. Lanham, MD: University of Delaware Press, 2014. 220-227.

Ōba Kenji. Sheikusupia no honyaku (Shakespeare Translation in Japan). Tokyo: Kenkyūsha, 2009.

Takahashi Yasunari. “Hamlet and the Anxiety of Modern Japan.” Shakespeare Survey 48. Ed. Stanley Wells. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995. 99-111.

Thompson, Ann, and Neil Taylor, ed. The Arden Shakespeare: Hamlet. London: Cengage Learning, 2006.

Tomasi, Massimiliano. Rhetoric in Modern Japan. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai’i Press, 2004.

Tsubouchi Shōyō, trans. Hamuretto (Hamlet). Tokyo: Waseda University Press, 1909.

Tsubouchi Shōyō. trans. Hamuretto (Hamlet). Tokyo: Chūō Kōronsha, 1933a.

Tsubouchi Shōyō. trans. Benisu no shōnin (The Merchant of Venice) Tokyo: Chūō Kōronsha, 1933b.

Tsubouchi Shōyō. Biji ronkō (Theory of Rhetoric) (1893). Shōyō senshū dai jūikkan (Selected Works of Tsubouchi Shōyō, Vol, 11). Ed. Shōyō Kyōkai. Tokyo: Daiichi Shobō, 1977. 1-155.

Tsubouchi Shōyō. trans. Benisu no shōnin (The Merchant of Venice) (1906). Meiji honyaku bungaku zenshū yon: Sheikusupia shū yon (Literary Translations of the Meiji Era, Series 4: Shakespeare Translations, Vol. 4). Ed. Kawato Michio and Sakakibara Takanori. Tokyo: Ōzorasha, 1997. 186-225.

Tsubouchi Shōyō. “Bi to wa nani zo ya” (What Is Beauty?) (1886). Modern Japanese Aesthetics: A Reader. Ed./trans. Michele Marra. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2002. 48-64.

Multicultural Shakespeare

Translation, Appropriation and Performance; The Journal of University of Lodz

Journal Information

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2017: 0.101


All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 524 524 69
PDF Downloads 80 80 13