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The Process of Shakespeare Acceptance in Korea (1) 1906~1961

Publication Date
  • 셰익스피어
  • Shakespeare
  • 한국수용
  • The Process Of Acceptance
  • 최재서
  • Choi Jae-Suh
  • 유치진
  • Yoo Chi-Jin
  • 신협
  • Shin-Hyup
  • Literature


The process of accepting William Shakespeare and his works in Korea had not begun until the 20th century; it has been only 100 years since William Shakespeare made his presence known in this land. What is fascinating about the introduction of Shakespeare to the Korean public is that he was introduced not as a poet or playwright but as one of the most eminent figures in the history of mankind. Although Korea, by 1910, had already started to open itself bit by bit to the outside world, particularly to the Western world, and positioned itself toward the process of accepting the new trend from the West, playwright Shakespeare was not yet known to the Korean audience and introducing his plays in full was still unimaginable. In 1917, the film version of Macbeth was introduced to the Korean public for the first time and translating Shakespeare into Korean was unthinkable. To the general populace of Korea at that time, Shakespeare was absolutely remote and therefore there was neither need nor demand to study or introduce him and his works. Moreover, the newly introduced dramas from the Western world were utterly foreign to the ordinary Koreans and thus they were quite vulnerable. The new melodramas that had just been introduced to the Korean audience via Japanese were barely making their inroads in Korea, and staging Shakespeare in Korea was out of the question. In addition, Korea possessed no capable students of English who could translate Shakespeare into Korean. In the 1920s, the number of students who studied English and could fully understand Shakespeare was few. What it means is that Shakespeare was indirectly introduced to the Korean audience through Japan. It was in the 1920s, after the First-of-March Independence Movement, that Shakespeare and his works, even in a truncated and summary fashion, made their debut in Korea. The First-of-March Independence Movement is an all important event not only in the modern history of Korea but also in the progress of the modern Korean culture. The movement awakened the sense of self-awareness and self-determination dormant in the consciousness of Korean people, especially among young people of the time. Quite a few young people had gone on a quest of new kind of scholarship and went to either Japan or America or Europe to study, and in the process they naturally learned the importance Shakespeare holds in the Western literature. Particularly, as the number of students who studied English literature or various other Western dramas in college increased, the need to translate Shakespeare or study him in depth was also sharply felt. The force of American films in the 1920s shouldn't be overlooked or underestimated in the introduction of Shakespeare in Korea. In 1922, the two American movies, Romeo and Juliet, one of the two, were played in Dan-sung-sa and greatly stirred the emotions of Korean people. The tragic love of two young people was touching enough to move the hearts and minds of Koreans even though the dialogues were unnaturally recited by a movie narrator. Interestingly, a movie, with a single punch, narrowed the distance between Shakespeare and the Korean audience. In addition to the force of movies, Charles Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare also played an important role in familiarizing Shakespeare to the Korean public. To the Korean reading public who were not used to reading plays, the story-telling-like prose version of Charles Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare was comfortable, and their plots were realistic and persuasive enough. The grip of Charles Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare on the Korean reading public stayed strong until the 1940s and this in turn explains why the study of Shakespeare in Korea had nothing much to show for at that time. The study of Shakespeare in earnest began in the 1930s when the Theater Art Study Association was organized to study dramas and to lead the modern drama movement. During this period certain portions of the Shakespeare's plays were staged and some ambitious young people selected Shakespeare as their main field of study. Still, the Shakespeare's plays were not performed in full and what it means is that the Korean stage was not mature enough to handle Shakespeare yet. It was with the liberation of Korea from the Japanese occupation in 1945 that full staging of Shakespeare was attempted. The job of putting Shakespeare on stage in full was undertaken by the college students as a means of studying Shakespeare. One thing we had to remember at this point is that the impact Shakespeare had on the Korean playwrights such as Yoo Chi-jin. He was fascinated and deeply influenced by Shakespeare. Korean playwrights internalized Shakespeare in their works. Here "internalize" means that they have borrowed from Shakespeare the overall structure, plot line and the character-creation. To the modern Korean playwrights, Shakespeare was their standard to measure their works against. Many significant modern Korean dramas have borrowed either plots or characters from Shakespeare. Shakespeare is a playwright whose primary concern is on stage and yet he was first introduced as a literary in Korea, and that is what makes Korea unique and what distinguishes Korea from England or Western Europe as far as Shakespeare is concerned. When Shakespeare made his debut to the Korea public, dramas were something quite new and foreign that came from the outside world, even though Korea had some form of performing art such as masque drama or jester dances. Therefore, the introduction of Shakespeare in Korea was oblique. However, in the wake of the Korean War in 1950 things began to change rapidly. Earlier Korea saw the creation of a competent repertoire theater, Shin-hyup. During the war, Shin-hyup had to move its base to Pusan as the country moved its war time capital to Pusan and there they met a local scholar of English, Ban No-dan, who translated Shakespeare. In Pusan they staged the full-scale Shakespeare for the first time in Korea. The translation was by Han No-dan, and the play was directed by Lee Hae-rang, and played by Kim Dong-won. A number of scholars, intellectuals, and college professors began to translate, discuss, or review Shakespeare and his works. The front figure of the first generation Shakespeare scholarship in Korea is Choi Jae-suh. His doctoral dissertation in 1961 was On Shakespeare. Subsequently, he supplemented and revised his dissertation, and it was published both in Korea under the title The Art of Shakespeare(1963) and in Arnerica Shakespeare's Art as Order of Life(1965). For Choi Jae-suh "order" is the core concept of the Shakespeare's art. This work of Choi Jae-suh's was a remarkable feat, which raised the standards of Shakespeare study in Korea. This feat has taken 50 years since Shakespeare was first introduced in Korea. As the Korean colleges and universities improve spectacularly in their management, administration and quality, Shakespeare has naturally emerged as a towering figure in the Western civilization. Now he is studied extensively and his plays are quite regularly performed in the universities by student actors. Koreans finally come to grip with the extent and depth of Shakespeare and his world. For English majors, Shakespeare is compulsory and quite a few students and lecturers choose Shakespeare as their main field of study. Repertoire theaters faithfully put Shakespeare on stage with mission when they feel the need to hone their deeper understanding of the theater art.

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