Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Happy Birthday, Will Shakespeare!

It was a beautiful and hot afternoon in June, 2012 when the idea of re-establishing the Hungarian Shakespeare Society was conceived. The narrative about the conception and what has followed from it is the topic of this blog post, which in turn is my contribution to the celebration of Shakespeare’s birthday (#hbws) in the blogosphere.

On that beautiful and hot afternoon I was writing a paper in my office, and as always Twitter messages kept popping up—a peaceful afternoon indeed. I was just about to fall asleep, a post-lunch biorhythmic problem so to say, when a Direct Message from Stanley Wells woke me up. Kindly he asked if we were going to meet in Gyula, Hungary at the annual Shakespeare Festival where he was an invited guest. As the office happened to be in the US, at the University of Notre Dame, where I was fortunate enough to act as a visiting fellow, I had to respond that it was rather unlikely that I could make it.

Having agreed on this, he—by the way—asked which one of his books I think should be translated into Hungarian, as the organizers of the Festival could have it translated. I was about to respond with a book title when it occurred to me that this would be a great opportunity to practice what I preach, i.e. the power of collaboration. So instead of sending the DM immediately, I sent a circular out to a dozen Hungarian colleagues to enquire about their opinion. I thought that a day-or-two delay would cause no problem. To my greatest surprise after two hours emails started pouring in, and five hours later my fellow Shakespeareans from all over Hungary voted for a book, so my task lay in channelling the winner back to Stanley Wells.

Now, four considerations followed from this chain of events. First, there exists a sense of belonging to each other among Hungarian Shakespeare scholars. Second, it is worth asking about the opinions of others, because together we are cleverer and wiser—the title I sent over to Prof. Wells was not the one I voted for. Three, modern technology can be deployed to overcome distance: inspiration came via Twitter and the rest could be solved through email. Four, all of us proved to be enthusiastic about forming general opinion, or, in other words, shape Shakespeare’s Hungarian cult, as the choice was made with an eye on what the reading public may need.

These four considerations formed the premises for a conclusion: this collaboration and belonging together may well be institutionalized. Not pondering too much, when letting my colleagues know about the winner of the poll, I also asked a further question about re-establishing the Hungarian Shakespeare Society. Actually, I was not really surprised at the fast and enthusiastic responses. The idea, thus, was in the air before asking it, but somebody had to phrase the timely question.

This way there began the meditation about organizing the Society, which took some time. We pondered about what the aim of the Hungarian Shakespeare Society should be, what kind of an institutional structure would foster this aim. Many emails were sent around, many Google spreadsheets were filled, analyzed by the time the new Hungarian Shakespeare Society could elect a president and a steering committee, could decide on what the Society should do, who should be involved and why. This time of thinking, brainstorming and discussions proved not only fruitful but joyful as well, scholarly friendships came into being and old ones got stronger, so this phase was really beneficial. As a result, eight months later, on 26 January, 2013 during the biannual conference of the Hungarian Society for the Study of English we could announce the (re)establishment of the Hungarian Shakespeare Society.

The identity of the Hungarian Shakespeare Society was fashioned with an eye on the previous ones, as there had already been three. The first HSS came into being in 1860 as a project committee overseeing the translation of Shakespeare’s works into Hungarian. This committee worked within the Kisfaludy Society, and the head of the committee was János Arany, poet and Shakespeare translator. When the committee ran out of money, it slowly dissolved. The next Hungarian Shakespeare Society came into being at the beginning of the 20th century to help the study of Shakespeare, e.g. a Shakespeare Library section was founded in the University Library at Budapest. After decades of silence HSS no. 3 was founded by Tibor Fabiny and late István Géher. The objective then was the inclusion of the theatre and fostering foreign cooperation. The years of political changes in the 1990’s, however, brought an end to this Hungarian Shakespeare Society.

The new, i.e. no. 4 Hungarian Shakespeare Society learned from the previous ones and took four steps forward. The present HSS keeps the objectives of its predecessors insofar as it fosters research, communication among scholars, theatre people and translators. In contrast, however, with the previous ones the present Hungarian Shakespeare Society has opened its gates to another stakeholder in the Hungarian Shakespeare reception, namely secondary schools. Also we have tried to balance Budapest centeredness, and have made use of digital technology, such as mailing lists, a website and a Facebook page were created. We organize public lectures twice a term, the first was by Prof. György Endre Szőnyi about filmic versions of Henry V, the second is due on 10 May and József Gedeon will talk about the history of Gyula Shakespeare Festival that he organizes with great success. We have also announced a blog post writing competition. Furthermore we have plans about books to be written and creating a database for the Hungarian translations of Shakespeare’s plays to help theatre people and translators.

So, Will Shakespeare, on behalf of the new Hungarian Shakespeare Society let me wish you a happy birthday! And if your followers come to Hungary, tell them that the Hungarian Shakespeare Society will be happy to provide the opportunity for them to give a talk to your Hungarian followers.