The Bard in Korea #ShakespeareWeek

Shakespeare Week is almost over, nevertheless: Here are some links to blogposts I wrote on Shakespeare in Korea – let’s make it an international celebration!


Original Image via WikimediaCommons, Library of Congress (public domain)

Original Image via WikimediaCommons, Library of Congress (public domain)

First, a commented bibliography on book chapters on Shakespeare in Korea: “Some More Shakespeare in Korea”

I wrote that post as an update on a paper on Lee Yun-taek’s production of Hamlet, which I presented back in 2009 at the German Shakespeare Society and published the following year. The paper is in English, though, and you can find the link and some context here.

I should update the bibliography sometime – besides numerous texts in Korean, some English-language writings that would have to be included are:

  • Chapter 5 (“Conceptualizing Korean Shakespeare in the Era of Globalization”) of Hyunjung Lee’s Performing the Nation in Global Korea: Transnational Theatre (Palgrave Macmillan 2015), 93–126 (publisher, Google Books)
  • Cho Seoug-kwan’s PhD-dissertation “Shakespeare and the South Korean Stage” (University of Warwick 2014) (repository, available from April 7, 2017), which promises “a comprehensive synoptic historical and theoretical approach” to the history of Shakespeare in Korea and includes discussions of some recent productions
  • “Korean students’ Shakespeare”, reflections by Sarah Olive on her research project
  • Anything else? Please let me know!


Next, short reviews of Taroo’s “Pansori Hamlet Project”, which began with two showcases (in the basement of Doosan Art Center, 2012; in the lobby of Seoul Theater Center, 2013) and continues with a feature-length production (2014–). I wrote a comparative review of Taroo’s project and ensemble Tuida’s Hamlet Cantabile: “A Tale of Two Hamlets”, Borrowers and Lenders X.1, 2016. One chapter of my dissertation (submitted but not defended yet) deals also in detail with performative aspects of the whole project.


A short post on Benedict Cumberbatch’s body and his performance as Hamlet at the Barbican


Some pieces of evidence for what might have been the very first low-key “performances” of Shakespeare’s plays in Korea!


A list of productions planned for the Quattrocentennial in 2016 (some were added during the year; full disclosure: I missed all of them, but finally saw the classic “Koreanized” Hamlet by Lee Yun-taek and Ensemble “Georipae”, a truely spectacular midnight-show in Miryang, see picture)

연희단거리패, 햄릿, 연출: 이윤택, 제16회 밀양 여름공연예술축제, Aug. 6, 2016

연희단거리패, 햄릿, 연출: 이윤택, 제16회 밀양 여름공연예술축제, Aug. 6, 2016


As an addendum: The first full set of Shakespeare’s plays in Korean based on the Oxford Edition (instead of Arden, see “Arden vs. Oxford-threads on Librarything and Reddit) just came out (translation: Lee Sang-seop). The new edition is just one volume – a blue tome of nine pounds!

셰익스피어 전집 이상섭 역, 문학과지성, 2016 BHere are the full bibliographic details: 셰익스피어 전집, 옮김: 이상섭, 문학과지성 2016, 1808쪽, 정가: 120,000원; Moonji Publishing, Kyobo, Aladin

An English announcement in the Dong-a Ilbo notes that with this publication, the Korean Complete Shakespeare “has become independent from the influence of the Japanese edition by Shoyo Tsubouchi, the first to translate all of Shakespeare’s plays into Japanese”.

Some more facts on the current state of complete editions of Shakespeare (셰익스피어 전집) in Korea from a review by Choe Jae-bong in Hankyoreh (최재봉, 한겨레, 2016–12–01):

  • The first translation of Shakespeare’s complete works, by Kim Jae-nam (김재남) from 1964 (Shakespeare’s 400th birthday), is out of print
  • The only complete works available was Sin Jeong-ok’s (신정옥) popular paperback translation from the 1980s (전예원)
  • Kim Jeong-hwan (김정환) began a 40-volume translation in 2008 but since volume 23 (2013), the project has been on halt (아침이슬)
  • Choe Jong-cheol (최종철), student of Lee Sang-seop, began a new translation in 2014, but will take some more time until completion (민음사), as does a similar project by the Korean Shakespeare Society (한국셰익스피어학회)

Lee Sang-seop attempts to make a translation that is “performable” (see Susan Bassnett’s paper on “Translating for the Theatre” on this issue), in other words, “concise and harmonious enough to be used on stage”, as he writes in his introduction, good to pronounce rather than exact to the source. The article provides Hamlet’s “To Be or Not To Be”-soliloquy as an example:

존재냐, 비존재냐,?그것이 문제다.
억울한 운명의 돌팔매와 화살을
마음속에 참는 것이 고귀한 일인가,
만난의 바다에 팔을 걷어붙이고
저항하여 끝내는 것이 고귀한 일인가?
죽음은 자는 것, 그뿐이다. 잠으로써
육체가 이어받는 아픔과 온갖 병을
끝낸다 할진대, 이는 진정 희구할
행복한 결말이다. 죽음은 잠자는 것.

Let’s just say that the opening is at least uncommon – a rather simple style that seems to follow at least partly the rhythm of the original. I will write a bit more on variations of these famous lines in an upcoming post, the second part to my overview of Korean-language Hamlet-translations. Soon more!

– 24 March 2017 (金)


About Jan Creutzenberg

Jan Creutzenberg, friend of theatre, music, and cinema, comments on his performative experiences in Seoul and elsewhere.
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