Shakespeare at the Seder: Author writes Passover Haggadah as the Bard would have

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Chances are William Shakespeare never attended a Passover Seder, but that hasn’t stopped author Martin Bodek from imagining what a Haggadah written by the Bard of Avon would have looked like.

“The Passover Haggadah, as Shakespeare would have written it, if the thought had occurred to him,” is the name of the book, published on March 15, or the Ides of March as “Julius Caesar ” fans know it.

“The Shakespeare Haggadah” contains the entire traditional Hebrew and Aramaic text, as well as Bodek’s own Elizabethan English translation, enriched with multiple quotations from each of Shakespeare’s 39 plays. It’s great fun for anyone who loves the Bard’s works, or enjoys the challenge of trying to understand what Early Modern English speakers meant by words like “ quoth” and “snuffs”.

However (as the Bard would say), language is not inevitable.

“In places where I thought Shasperan’s English was too difficult, I turned it into more modern English so it was understandable,” Bodek told The Times of Israel.

‘The Shakespeare Haggadah: Elevate Your Seder with the Bard of Avon’ by Martin Bodek (Famous Son)

In an interview from his home in Teaneck, New Jersey, the author said he had enjoyed reading Shakespeare’s plays since he was a teenager.

“My personal favorite is ‘The Winter’s Tale,’ which is not well known or noticed. It’s very much like a Grimm’s fairy tale,” he said.

He hopes this new Haggadah will especially appeal to high school and college students, who have been introduced to Shakespeare’s works in their studies and are generally excited. Bodek believes that Haggadah writers and publishers have recently ignored this demographic.

“Today there are many Haggadahs for children and learned adults. One commentary version after another is constantly being poured out, and teenagers and college-age kids are constantly being forgotten,” he said.

What makes “The Shakespeare Haggadah” enjoyable is not only how Bodek cleverly weaves in quotes from all the plays (including 19 from “Henry IV, part II,” 14 from ” Macbeth,” and 13 from “As You Like It” ), but also how he organizes the Seder like a play, with humorous actions and stage directions.

These descriptions of how a Seder would be performed on the stage of the famous Globe theater are spot on for anyone who attended the celebratory meal that kicked off the Freedom Festival.

Illustrations: Passover by Zoya Cherkassky (Courtesy of the artist)

For example, as the Magician begins (telling the story of Exodus), “The husband begins his recitation and suddenly the conversation explodes around him. It moves on, and everyone else will probably join in on the fun parts.”

And as Seder guests pour a drop of wine while reciting the Ten Plagues, “Grape juice is everywhere now. The woman is crying… she’s reeling from the mess that’s about to happen.”

As irritating as they are, the unequal nature of these scenes — and the assumption that a male husband presides over the Seder while a wife focuses on cleanliness and order — may turn some people off.

On an aesthetic level, “The Shakespeare Haggadah” looks the part: The 192-page softcover book uses a font reminiscent of 17th- and 18th-century printed matter. There are also several woodcut illustrations related to Passover.

Bodek, a 47-year-old IT professional, is the author of three other droll Haggadahs: “The Emoji Haggadah,” “The Festivus Haggadah,” and “The Coronavirus Haggadah.” The latter was what the author called “a desperate form of comic relief” during the pandemic.

Martin Bodek (Courtesy)

The Festivus tombstone was the result of his admiration for the iconic 1990s TV show “Seinfeld”. In that case, he was able to reference each episode based on his encyclopedic knowledge of the sitcom.

He admitted that he did not have the same familiarity with all of Shakespeare’s plays, so he used various print and online resources to find the correct references and references.

“The best part was that I managed to find a language for all the Ten Plagues,” Bodek said.

That’s pretty cool. However, “Hail Hail” from “Julius Caesar” isn’t exactly frozen precipitation. But we’ll let that slide, because when we get to the end of the Seder with this Haggadah, it’s probably “All’s Well That Ends Well.”

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