Shakespeare's Universe

David Turshyan, Librarian, International Languages Department,

“All my best is dressing old words new,” writes William Shakespeare in one of his sonnets. Let’s consider an expression –  “to kiss away” – from the play Antony and Cleopatra –  “We have kissed away kingdoms and provinces.” (Act 3, scene 10). Can this word combination be expressed in any other way or language, without waving goodbye to the flavor of sweet loss?

Through the interplay of words – their meanings and sounds – Shakespeare creates, what Petros Adamian calls, a “theatrical mirror.” One of the characters in King Lear offers a question, “Who is it that can tell me who I am?” (Act 1, scene 4).  In a way, each Shakespearean character embodies certain human traits we may see in ourselves. And through the kaleidoscope of various personalities, Shakespeare invites us, as Eugène Delacroix says, to investigate “the secrets of the human heart.”

This year marks the quatercentenary of Shakespeare’s farewell to the world’s stage. His plays and poems – full of promise of a new day – have not only enriched the languages of the world that have been graced by various translations, but have also opened doors to diverse forms of interpretations and expressions, such as in literature, theatre, cinema, painting and music. The name – Shakespeare – has become a metaphor of “that mysterious spirit… reading human hearts,” says Helena Modjeska. 

“Goodnight, sweet Prince” offers a multilingual look at Shakespeare’s world, as expressed through one his most enigmatic creations – Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark. Linguistically, the root of the Prince’s name stands for “home” – from hammehamlet being a group of houses or small village, namely, “the universe in miniature.”