To dip or not to dip? The Shakespeare Haggadah

IT worker from New Jersey has written a Bard's version of the text we read every Pesach... with a little technical help


VAs the most famous dramatist to have ever lived, Shakespeare wrote nearly 40 plays, spanning romance, comedy, tragedy and history. But he never got around to penning a Haggadah.

Now a writer with a combined passion for thematic Haggadot and Shakespeare has put this oversight right in The Shakespeare Haggadah: Elevate Thy Seder with the Bard of Avon, which tells the story of the Children of Israel’s exodus from Egypt in Elizabethan English, illustrated with quotations from all 37 of the Bard’s plays.

Martin Bodek, who has three other themed Haggadot to his name, wrote a Shakespearean version of the text we read every Pesach because of the literary challenge it presented. England’s national poet is, he says, “literally head and shoulders above everyone else”.

But the New Jersey man, whose day job is in IT, deployed a little bit of tech help to help him meet the demands of his literary task.

“There is a website where I could put in a word such as ‘wine’, and it would give me a list of all the Shakespeare lines containing the word. I would then pick the most fitting one.”

He also used a translator website: “I’d put in a block of text and it would cough out its version of Elizabethan English, which I would shape into something intelligible.”
Bodek, 47, particularly enjoyed arriving at suitable wording for the ten plagues, “the most fun part of any Haggadah”, and said he had plenty of options to choose from.

“There is much mention of blood, toads, pestilence, boils, hail and locusts in Shakespeare’s work,” he said, adding that it was reassuring to make his choices without fear of raising copyright issues. “He’s been dead for 407 years, so I knew he wouldn’t cause me any problems.”

And although some traditionalists have, he says, objected to the linguistic liberties he has taken with his Shakespearean take on the ancient text, Bodek says he is simply following in the Bard’s footsteps. “He played with language to make it listenable to, and I have tweaked things to make this Haggadah readable.”

In addition, Bodek says, there is no contradiction between the Orthodox Judaism he practises and the poetic licence he has taken with his text.

“The actual commandment of the holiday is to remember the Exodus from Egypt and to tell it to your children,” he said. “The Haggadah is just a modern method of encoding it. And we are in an era of extreme Haggadot creativity.”

He has certainly been creative with his three previous Haggadot: The Emoji Haggadah aimed at children; The Festivus Haggadah for Seinfeld fans and The Coronavirus Haggadah, described as “comic relief for everyone”.

When he wrote The Shakespeare Haggadah, he says he had “the college crowd” in mind. “I wanted something that would grab them now and which they would have for life.”

He had no qualms about including lines from The Merchant of Venice, considered by some to be an antisemitic work, in his Haggadah. “It’s part of Shakespeare’s body of work. Of course I included it,” he said.

He also questioned whether the playwright was antisemitic. “The Jews were expelled from England 274 years before Shakespeare was born and readmitted 40 years after his death. He probably never met a real, live Jew.”

Meanwhile, Bodek’s real, live fans are “constantly sending” him suggestions for future Haggadot.

“People pick their favourite TV show and say ‘you should do a Downton Abbey Haggadah’ or a Game of Thronesthemed one.”

A couple of their suggestions have piqued his interest but, for the time being, he will not divulge which ones.

He is, however, happy to talk about the good-natured Haggadah competition he enjoys with fellow author Dave Cowen, whose latest version of the Exodus story is called The Meshuganah Kanye Haggadah.

“It’s his fifth one, but I intend to pull ahead, and surpass,” said Bodek.

‘The Shakespeare Haggadah’ by Martin Bodek is published by Wicked Son

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