Shakespeare’s Hamlet: A Drama Of Will or an Ideologically-Motivated Version? The Hamletism of Boris Pasternak

Daria Shembel, University of Southern California

Every interpretation transcends the particular poetics and politics of a cultural epoch, especially when dealing with a stylistic trend that imposed its aesthetics on the author in a dictatorial form. Created in the epoch of Socialist Realism, Pasternak’s translation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet might be read as an ideologically motivated version. Such a reading may be provoked by several reasons: first, the status of Pasternak in the Soviet literary establishment of 1930s and 1940s is rather ambivalent – he was semi-outlawed by the regime which allowed him to work and publish. Second, his possible tribute to “universal and simple form” could be seen in overall simplification of Hamlet which features abundant popular expressions (“ni k selu ni k gorodu,” “čtob duxu ne bylo,” “glaza vyšli iz orbit,” “ne v konja korm,” etc.) or cutting down Shakespeare’s synonymous constructions, which deviates considerably from Pasternak’s original poetics (he started to work on Hamlet in the 1930s, prior to his “neslyxannaja prostota” phase). This is a valid juxtaposition since Pasternak always insisted on the deliberate amalgamation of his original oeuvres and translations: “Perevody organičeski primykajut k našim ostal’nym rabotam” (Pasternak, 1990).

Using this postulate, in the second part of my research I will investigate the emblematic role of Hamlet’s figure, which unites Pasternak’s novel Doctor Zhivago, his poem Hamlet and the translation. I examine the theme of will which defines Pasternak’s relationship with authority, becomes one of the central motif in his oeuvres, and plays a central role in Hamlet’s criticism. Using the strategy of generative poetics elaborated by Zholkovsky, I outline the invariant themes unifying the three works and elucidating Pasternak’s conception of art and his life-creational will (e.g. the significance of an external impulse that governs the world, the motif of a Messiah, the pre-destined role of the artist in society).

The broader aspects of translation are researched in the proposed paper – the problem of authorial voice in translation, imposition by the translator of the temporal stylistic system, deliberate changing of the text of the original in accordance with translator’s interpretation, interaction and mutual influence of the original works and translations of the same author.

The theatrical aspect of translation is considered, and Pasternak’s version is compared with contemporaneous interpretations of Hamlet.


Пастернак, Борис. «Заметки переводчика.» Зарубежная поэзия в переводах Пастернака. Москва, 1990, 572.