Shakespeare in Albanian? New online tool explores why translations vary

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Whether it’s Shakespeare, the Bible, or the assembly instructions for your bookcase, different translators rarely come up with exactly the same translation. A new online and interactive tool, developed by a Swansea University-led project, will allow researchers to compare translations, to see easily how much they vary, and to understand why.

Technology such as barcodes and OCR (optical character recognition) make it possible to see different texts in digital form.  The project team, bringing together experts in languages, computing science, English and design, are able to look at these versions, and analyse where they differ.  To highlight the differences they make use of data visualisation tools such as online graphics. 

The tool can be seen at

It can be used for any text, but the team has demonstrated it by looking at a single couplet and scene from Shakespeare’s “Othello”.  This is why the tool was launched at The Globe Theatre, a reconstruction of a theatre from Shakespeare's time, on the south bank of the Thames in central London.

The team collected hundreds of versions of the couplet in 32 languages, from Albanian and Arabic to Ukrainian and Turkish.  For a full list of languages go to:

Dr Tom Cheesman, from the Department of Languages, Translation and Communication at Swansea University, leads the project.  He explained:

"Using the new tools we can analyse the variation among translations.  We can see where there is most and least variation, and we can see if there are any patterns. 

For example, Shakespeare’s writing is full of obscurities and ambiguities: so how do translators deal with them?  Do men translate differently from women?  Do East German translations of Shakespeare differ from West German?   How has the depiction of Othello as a Black man changed through history, from the time of slavery, through the German Empire under Kaiser Wilhelm, to the Nazi dictatorship, and up to the present time of ‘political correctness’?

The tool will help us answer questions like this, allowing us to explore differences between different cultures and periods". 

The project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.  More Swansea projects in the Arts and Humanities can be found at