Julian Korsak (1806–1855) was a poet and translator, one of the most representative figures of Polish romanticism living and working in Poland. He only translated Romeo and Juliet (Romeo i Julia), but it ignited the first fiercely contested critical debate over the Polish translation of Shakespeare’s plays. With the benefit of hindsight his work can be read as a unique record of the clashes between different literary ideas and aesthetics.
With respect to style and prosody Korsak modelled his translation on an excerpt previously translated by Adam Mickiewicz (Act II, Scene 2), and he included that earlier version alongside his own translation. Korsak did not outline his approach anywhere, nor did he comment on the reception of the text. He did not engage in polemics. His voice can only be heard in the annotations, where he also admitted that he flinched at the idea of tackling verse already rendered into Polish by Mickiewicz. He worked with a fluently rhymed 13-syllable line, making significant departures from the music and dynamics of the original blank verse, a fact noted by many contemporary critics. He consistently toned down the style of the original, making use of omissions and substitutions of imagery, and introducing minor interpolations. He worked on the translation for well over a decade: sections appeared in 1830, and the whole play ten years later.
Korsak’s translation was published shortly after Ignacy Hołowiński’s first volume of Shakespeare (1839), which included Romeo and Juliet. This coincidence meant that the first two translations of Romeo and Juliet into Polish, though they were not intentionally oppositional, stoked the discussion raging over the best way to translate Shakespeare. The debate that opened up in the Kresy had a significant impact on the emerging translation norms in Poland. Although it did not yield a settled resolution, it did much to identify the inherent challenges.
Korsak’s translation was reissued once but the play has not been staged as a whole.
Bibliography of translations
[William Shakespeare], Romeo i Julia. Trajedya w pięciu aktach z Shakespeara, tłum. Julian Korsak [w:] Julian Korsak, Nowe Poezye, T. 1, J. Zawadzki, Wilno 1840, s. 1–187.
William Shakespeare, Romeo i Julia. Tragedya w pięciu aktach, tłum. Julian Korsak, O. Zukerkandel i Syn, Złoczów 1891 [Biblioteka Powszechna, nr 8–9].