Swords of freedom

TSUBOUCHI Shōyō's 1884 translation of Julius Caesar is notable for two things: (1) being the first ever translation of a full Shakespeare play into Japanese, and (2) being rendered jōruri-style, right down to the title: Shiizaru kidan: Jiyū no tachi, nagori no kireaji 該撒奇談 自由太刀餘波鋭鋒, that is "The Curious Tale of Caesar: The Swords of Freedom, and the Keenness of their Wake."

What does jōruri Shakespeare look like? Here's Shōyō's version of the first few lines of Marc Antony's rabble-rousing eulogy, plus the original English version from the First Folio (of course, Shōyō was probably working from a rather more refined edition):

Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears:
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him:
The euill that men do, liues after them,
The good is oft enterred with their bones,
So let it be with Caesar. The Noble Brutus,
Hath told you Caesar was Ambitious:
If it were so, it was a greeuous Fault,
And greeuously hath Caesar answer'd it.
Heere, vnder leaue of Brutus, and the rest
(For Brutus is an Honourable man,
So are they all; all Honourable men)
Come I to speake in Caesars Funerall.


The style is flowery and repetitive, which is to say jōruric, but the content is fairly close to the original — it's not even really worth back-translating. The main difference is the localized moral and philosophical references: for example, just before the "evil that men do lives after them" part, Shōyō inserts a Japanese proverb of similar import: Kōji mon wo idezu, akuji sen ri ni hashiru ("A good deed doesn't leave the house, a bad deed runs a thousand miles"; cf Twain's "A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes"). Similarly, Antony's famous "honorable man" becomes a Confucian "至正至公の君子" or "正義の君子", that is, "righteous and just gentleman [jūnzǐ]."

No, the real difference lies not in the dialogue but... well, everywhere else. As Shōyō explains in the introduction, the reason he chose the jōruri form was because the original is "made up of dialogue alone" and not, therefore, a "script" 戯曲 as commonly understood in Japan at the time. In other words, he felt that he had do something about Shakespeare's notoriously sparse and unreliable stage directions if his translation was to be believable as a script for performance, and jōruri was the solution upon which he hit. (Not at random — Shōyō also believed that traditional Japanese theatre and Shakespeare shared a common sensibility that contemporary dramatists did not, and that kabuki in particular could and should be revitalized with elements mined from the works of the Bard.)

(Bibliographic aside: I first read about all this in detail in ONO Masashi's "Tsubouchi Shōyō and Shakespeare" 坪内逍遥とシェイクスピア, one of the essays in the excellent, ANZAI Tetsuo 安西徹雄-edited Japan's Shakespeare Century 日本のシェイクスピア100年.)

Anyway, here's an example of what it means to jōrurify Julius Caesar. Consider the original version of Caesar's death scene in Act III:

They stab Caesar.

Caes     Et Tu Brute? - Then fall Caesar.


It's very simple. Some modern editions specify that Casca stabs first, then Brutus and the others, but basically that's it. Shōyō, however, tells it thus:


Which, if you will permit a rather bombastic Englishification, works out something like this:

"But, Lord Caesar..." Casca says — "Bah!" replies Caesar, "Your prating is—" — As he turns, he frustrates the first dagger-thrust — His shoulder, grazed, lets flow a crimson tide of blood — "What is this?!" Caesar cries in shock, and twists to gain the upper hand, and Casca for his part feels pain invade his arm, and cries for help — The rest in grim agreement draw free hidden daggers from their sleeves — Now left and right and fore and flank, they strike as one, death whispers in the dark beneath the moon — Struggling under lightning-flashing blades — Kicking, Trampling — Fighting for his life, Caesar is become a raging lion — Well, now! here's the incident in the capitol, a rising to bring the lofty low, as a great mountain crumbles before raging waves — Marcus Brutus, who was watching all, runs up to Caesar, pushes dagger-point deep into Caesar's side — "Et tu, Brute?" — So Caesar speaks his final words — He pulls his cloak over his head, the better twenty wounds and more to bear — And so, amid the statues standing many in their rows, rolls the man to rest before the pedestal where Pompey stands, and there he breathes his last.

Trivia: although published in 1884, Shōyō's Julius Caesar wasn't staged until 1901. TOMIHARA Yoshiaki 富原芳彰 argues that this was almost certainly in response to the assassination of HOSHI Tōru 星亨, an ex-member of the Itō cabinet, in June of that year. [And I just noticed that later in his essay Tomihara discusses the characteristics of Shōyō's jōruri style using the exact same example as me. Crap.]

Popularity factor: 7

Leonardo Boiko:

1. Is there a video of this? Or at least a place where I can hear an audio recitation?


> Jiyū no tachi nagori no kireaji
> 自由太刀 餘波鋭鋒

What’s this form of writing without particles? Something like kanbun?

3. I cannot help but reading your dash-filled “bombastic” English as Burroughs, which makes this whole thing even more of a salad than it is.


"amid the statues standing many in their rows, rolls the man to rest before the pedestal where Pompei stands"

Normally that name is "Pompey" in English, right?

The scene has obviously been filled out by historical details. But my Ancient Roman Geography is rusty, and I don't remember any such statues in the Curia, so has Tsubouchi used the original accounts and transferred the action back to the (accurate) Theater of Pompey rather than the Shakespeare-specified Capitoll?


Sure, it could be kambun, strings of kanji without visible の which are understood. But the order of the words is the same as in Japanese (since it's a string of noun phrases--if it was 不忍通り where your verbs and auxiliaries start going the other way, that's a bit more clearly ex kambunedra), so I'd say it's just orthographic convention (like which syllables make it to okurigana, and which are stuck inside the kanji still--and that, too, varies a bit according to usage or era).

Leonardo Boiko:

Ooh, that’s interesting to me —was there ever a widespread orthography with implied «no»s? Or is it just a convention which developed in specific places, such as Jōruri titles? I see the cover image in the linked page includes furigana, with «no»s and all —I assume it’s contemporary?


Very cool to see this translation getting some attention--and in English, no less!
There is quite a bit of scholarship that cites this translation as the first full translation of Shakespeare (or any play) from English into Japanese. Interestingly, though, there was a serialization of this same script a little less than a year earlier that was serialized in an Osaka newspaper by a different translator. Tsubouchi's is definitely more well known and more highly regarded, but he got scooped by about 10 months.


Leo: Never seen a recording, sorry. Also, you don't see much content in all-kanji like that (except kanbun), although often just 其 or 此 will be used to mean "sono" or "kono". But it's pretty common in titles and headings. (And most of them have furigana, at least if they were intended for general consumption)

AQ: Really! I remember that there are some earlier partial translations, and translations based on Charles and Mary Lamb's novelizations (for want of a better word) -- in fact I see that Inoue Tsutomu did the Merchant of Venice in this way in 1883 -- but I'd never heard of a full, dramatic version like this. Do you have any more info, like who the translator was?

Brian: Yeah, it's obvious he went to some other sources to get all the fill-out detail. He calls the location of act 3 scene 1 the 議事堂 or just 議堂 (or "near" that), by which I'm pretty sure he just means "Capitol [building]". He might have not known where the statues were, or decided it didn't really matter and the Capitol was more dramatic. And -- yes -- Pompey! Thanks.


You're right about Venice--I think Inoue's translation was actually pirated (or possibly borrowed, but "pirated" sounds more fun) by another translator who used it to write the script that became the first staged version of a Western play by Japanese people in Japan (there were performances at the Geity Theater in Yokohama, by they were by foreigners and for foreigners).

The first Caesar was translated in 1883 by Kawashima Keizo. His translation was published in book form in 1886 and titled Sheikusupia Gikyoku: Rouma seisuikan, but it was published from February to April in the Nihon Rikken Seito Shinbun under the title of Shiiazaru Gikyoku or something really generic like that.

I could talk your ear off about these translations :) If you are interested, shoot me an email. I'd love to hear more about your reactions to Jiyu no tachi! Also, I hadn't seen this Ono Masashi article, so thank you!

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