by Marcu Beza


THE first Roumanian theatre in the modern sense of the word was founded by the daughter of Prince Caradgea in about the year 1818—a square construction with three rows of boxes, lighted by tallow candles that guttered and smoked and smelt dreadful, and with a rather motley audience. An English traveller, William Macmichael, who happened to be passing through Bucharest at the time has left us the following description: "Everything was Eastern in the appearance of the men, though in the costume of the ladies, who were sitting cross-legged on sofas, there was an evident admixture of French and Oriental attire; their coiffures were richly ornamented with jewels and they wore French silk dresses, probably made at Vienna, together with the Greek zone and Turkish slippers."1 The organizers, mostly members of the Greek society Eteria aiming at the liberation of Greece, intended their plays for a patriotic purpose; and among others they produced in Greek the Death of Cęsar, a conspiracy - version of Julius Cęsar by Voltaire, and Voltaire's Mohamet, of which the last words addressed by the dying Pal­mira to the hero: "You must rule; the world is made for tyrants," were shouted in the streets after the performance.

Voltaire had become just then very popular, so much so that the Patriarch of Constantinople saw in his influence a danger to the Christian faith and threatened "with the wrath of heaven" all those who read him. Consequently Voltaire more than any one else contri­buted to the spread of English ways of thinking in Roumania. From Voltaire's Lettres Philosophiques the Roumanian public must have learned of men like Shakespeare; and again Voltaire's paraphrase of Julius Cęsar was given, this time in French, by the sons of the Roumanian boyars in Jassy. Shakespeare's own Julius Cęsar was translated from the French in 1844, being thus the first Shakespearean play ever printed in Roumania and chosen for the simple reason that, through its subject, it would appeal to and incite the revolutionary spirit of the period. Some years earlier a Roumanian periodical, Foaia pentru Minte, having published a translation of one of Goethe's conversations with Eckermann on Shakespeare, its editor added: "Have we reached the age when we need Shakespeare, this teacher of emperors and beggars, of nations and individuals ?''

His doubt was justified, for another Roumanian writer, in translating Byron's line from Don Juan:

Each in their turn like Banquo's monarchs stalk,

supposed that Banquo was the name of a town or of a country.

Macbeth, Act II, Scene iii

There followed in 1848 two translations of Romeo and Juliet and of Othello by one Thomas Bagdad, who foolishly advised his readers to look in Shakespeare for a good lesson as to the dangers of unrestrained love, of ambition, and of trust in women.

From a French rendering by Montague and Letour-neur Hamlet was translated for the first time. Its performance on the Roumanian stage on the night of 2 October, 1884, was hailed as an event of high importance by all the leading papers. They dealt with it in numerous long articles, one of which concluded as follows:

"The representation of Hamlet at the National Theatre is a triumph which means a great step on the way by our dramatic art."

It appears that Manolescu, himself the translator, displayed not only fine acting, but deep understanding in his impersonation of Hamlet, which gave him the standing of an historical figure in the tradition of the Roumanian theatre; and it is in the role of Hamlet that he is represented to-day by a statue in the Athenaeum at Bucharest.


1 Journey from Moscow to Constantinople, pp. 117-18, London, 1819.