Shakespeare at the Seder: Author writes Passover Haggadah as the Bard ‘would hast’

Martin Bodek renders the traditional holiday text into readable Elizabethan English, seamlessly adding multiple quotes from each of the great writer’s 39 plays

Renee Ghert-Zand is the health reporter and a feature writer for The Times of Israel.

An image showing direct comparisons between the Shakespeare of the Cobbe Portrait, the Chandos Portrait and the Droeshout Engraving. (Brice Stratford, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)
An image showing direct comparisons between the Shakespeare of the Cobbe Portrait, the Chandos Portrait and the Droeshout Engraving. (Brice Stratford, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Odds are that William Shakespeare never attended a Passover Seder, but that did not stop author Martin Bodek from imagining what a Haggadah written by the Bard of Avon would have looked like.

“It be the Passover Haggadah, as Shakespeare would hast writ it, hadst the idea occurred to him,” is the tagline for the book, which was published on March 15, or the Ides of March as “Julius Caesar” fans know it.

“The Shakespeare Haggadah” has the entire traditional Hebrew and Aramaic text, as well as Bodek’s own Elizabethan English translation, enriched with multiple quotes from every single one 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.”

Howbeit (as the Bard would say), the language is not impenetrable.

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

In an interview from his home in Teaneck, New Jersey, the author said that he has enjoyed reading Shakespeare’s plays since his teenage years.

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

“My personal favorite is ‘The Winter’s Tale,’ which doesn’t get much renown or attention. It’s very much like a Grimm’s fairytale,” he said.

He hopes that this new Haggadah will especially attract high school and college students, who are introduced to Shakespearean works in their studies and are generally excited about them. Bodek believes that this demographic has been ignored by Haggadah writers and publishers of late.

“Nowadays there are a lot of Haggadahs for kids and scholarly adults. One commentary-jammed version after another keeps getting poured out, and teenagers and college-age kids keep getting forgotten,” he said.

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

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

Illustrative: Passover Seder by Zoya Cherkassky (Courtesy of the artist)

For example, as the Magid (telling of the Exodus story) starts, “The husband begins his recitation and suddenly conversation explodes around him. He motors along, and presumably, everyone else will join in for the fun parts.”

And as the Seder guests spill drops of wine while the Ten Plagues are recited, “Grape juice is now everywhere. The wife cringes… she braces for the mess that is about to happen.”

As humorous as they are, the non-egalitarian nature of these scenes — with the presumption that a male spouse leads the Seder and a female one focuses on cleanliness and order — may be off-putting for some.

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

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 tome was a result of his fanatic admiration for the iconic 1990s television show “Seinfeld.” In that case, he was able to reference every episode based on his encyclopedic knowledge of the sitcom.

He admitted that he didn’t have the same familiarity with all of Shakespeare’s plays, so he used a variety of printed and online resources to find just the right quotes and references.

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

That is pretty amazing. However, “All Hail” from “Julius Caesar” isn’t exactly about frozen precipitation. But we’ll let that slide, because when reaching the end of the Seder with this Haggadah, presumably “All’s Well That Ends Well.”

The Shakespeare Haggadah by Martin Bodek

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