Shakespeare “Translated and Improved”: The Translational Politics of the American Yiddish Theater and Its Afterlife

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This article explores the American Yiddish theater’s creative reworkings of William Shakespeare, a practice epitomized by the presumed parodic dictum “translated and improved” (fartaytsht un farbessert). It argues that this theater’s translational politics of chutzpah strives to breach fixed literary and familial lineages by treating the high-canonical Anglo text as a porous space, open to endless cultural attachments. Through revisionary acts of intercultural exchange, the Yiddish theater and its followers envision literary inheritance as something that is not bounded by familial descent and dissent but rather is open to alternative modes of kinship. Specifically, this late nineteenth-century strategy is carried forward by authors such as Anzia Yezierska and Grace Paley, who turn to the Yiddish theater’s proclaimed improvement of Shakespeare in their multilingual English works in order to envision a radical fluidity of the American self. Writing on the periphery of US literary production, the authors studied in this article Judaize, Yiddishize, and queer Shakespearean characters, insisting on both the semantic and semiotic ways in which translations can democratize the linguistic economy of Anglo-American literature.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)273-299
Number of pages27
JournalAmerican literature; a journal of literary history, criticism and bibliography
Issue number2
Early online date3 Mar 2022
StatePublished - Jun 2022

Bibliographical note



  • Jewish American literature
  • Shakespeare
  • Yiddish
  • migration
  • translation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Literature and Literary Theory


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