Gustaw Ehrenberg (1818–1895) was the illegitimate son of Tsar Alexander I and Helena Weronika Rautenstrauchowa. He received a thorough education in Warsaw. In 1833 he began his studies at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, where he also began to operate as a political conspirator and an advocate for independence and social reform. In 1838 he was sentenced to death for conspiracy work, but the sentence was commuted to exile and hard labour. He was sent to Tobolsk, and also to Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk and Nerchinsk, where he worked in a mine. In 1858 he returned home. He worked as a magazine editor in Warsaw and from 1870 in Kraków. He translated a single Shakespeare play – The Winter’s Tale (Zimowa powieść, 1871).
Ehrenberg attached great significance to the alleged Slavic origins of the original story and dedicated a lengthy introduction to this question, throwing an interesting light on the unusual construction of this late play. The problem of the origins of The Winter’s Tale was the subject of contemporary debate at the time, taken up by Stanisław Egbert Koźmian and Józef Ignacy Kraszewski among others.
Ehrenberg decided to render the drama in prose because of the demands of the stage, feeling that it would bring about a better delivery of the lines. He was successful in varying the language of different characters, and skilfully handled dynamic imaging and associations. He translated the songs and ballads into rhymed verse, along with Time’s monologue, which divides the drama in two.
The first Polish translation of The Winter’s Tale was enthusiastically received, and Ehrenberg’s supple and sophisticated prose was praised highly. In spite of some indication in the correspondence that plans were in place, the translation was not included in the collected edition of Shakespeare overseen by Józef Ignacy Kraszewski. Later responses were dominated by the complaint that the play had been translated into prose, to a point where Ehrenberg’s work was roundly dismissed by critics.
The translation was staged several times, the first ever performance taking place in Kraków in 1877. It was reissued once, by Wydawnictwo Dzieł Tanich in Warsaw in 1879.
Bibliography of translations
[William Shakespeare], Zimowa powieść (Winter’s Tale). Dramat Szekspira, tłum. G. E. [Gustaw Ehrenberg], „Przegląd Polski” 1871, z. 10, s. 23–82, 147–202. Odbitka: w drukarni Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego, Kraków 1871.
[William Shakespeare], William Szekspir, Zimowa powieść (Winter’s Tale). Dramat , tłum. Gustaw Ehrenberg, Wydawnictwo Dzieł Tanich A. Wiślickiego, Warszawa 1879.