by Sarah Mummert, Student Public Relations Writer
It isn’t often that someone discovers a collection of 16th century plays that need to be translated into modern English, but that’s exactly what happened to Dr. Annis Shaver, professor of German and linguistics at Cedarville University. And as a Germanist who is training future Germanists, Shaver was perfectly positioned to complete this project.
In the last few years, Shaver and two former students have compiled a book that is based on their work, titled “Staging Luther: Four Plays by Hans Sachs.” The book includes their modern translations and several chapters on history and the translation process. The book was released on May 30, published by Fortress Press.
Shaver’s fascination with this project began in 2017, when she was on a planning committee for Cedarville’s 500-year anniversary celebration of Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.
Wanting to involve her students who were pursuing a minor in German, Shaver researched Hans Sachs, a German author at the time of the Reformation, who was known for his poem about Luther called “The Wittenberg Nightingale.” In researching Sachs, Shaver discovered that he had written four Reformation plays in 1523 supporting Luther. In each of these plays, Protestants and Catholics confront each other, using Scripture to debate Reformation-era church practices.
Her vision was for the students to perform in a reader’s theatre of the first of Sachs’ plays. However, Shaver could not find a modern English translation.
So, after translating the first play for the celebration, Shaver decided to translate all the plays into English, a task that began in fall 2017 and culminated with the completed book manuscript in April 2022.
Clara Hendrickson, a 2019 linguistics graduate, translated one of Sachs’ plays for her senior research project.
Another year passed before Ian MacPhail-Fausey, a 2021 linguistics graduate, translated one play for his senior research project and one for a special topics course.
With the translation work completed, Shaver sent the modern-English version of the plays to Fortress Press.
The publisher liked the translation of the four plays, but they also wanted a new version of Sachs’ poem “The Wittenberg Nightingale.”
For this project, Shaver and her former students opted to create a literal translation — not a translation with rhythm and rhyme, which has been done by other translators. The literal translation, according to Shaver, preserves the original ideas more succinctly.
In addition to the translated works, the book includes several chapters about translation and history, including a chapter by Dr. Robert Kolb, an expert in Reformation scholarship. Each of the plays is preceded by a reprint of the frontispiece that went with the originals.
The translation process was hefty, requiring hours of individual work and virtual group meetings as Shaver and her students combed through the works line by line, comparing the German to the English and making decisions for consistency. But there was yet another consideration.
“What we considered to be just as important as our translation was including footnotes for all the Scripture references,” said Shaver.
When these plays were written, the content of the Bible had been given chapter numbers, but not verse numbers. Whenever Sachs referred to a chapter of the Bible, Shaver, MacPhail-Fausey and Hendrickson found the exact verse reference and quoted the passage in modern English in the footnote, using the English Standard Version.
Now, Shaver and her former students made sure both chapter and verse were connected in the modern-English translation so that the book is more accessible to people who do not have a Bible, or don’t want to find the references themselves.
Located in southwest Ohio, Cedarville University is an accredited, Christ-centered, Baptist institution with an enrollment of 5,082 undergraduate, graduate, and dual-enrolled high school students in more than 175 areas of study. Founded in 1887, Cedarville is one of the largest private universities in Ohio, recognized nationally for its authentic Christian community, rigorous academic programs, including its Bachelor of Arts in Linguistics, high graduation and retention rates, accredited professional and health science offerings, and the #4 national ranking by the Wall Street Journal for student engagement. For more information about the University, visit cedarville.edu.