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Shakespeare and the Language of Translation.

Shakespeare and the Language of Translation. Ed. by Ton Hoenselaars. (The Arden Shakespeare: Shakespeare in Language) London: Thomson Learning. 2004. xiv+346 pp. 45 [pounds sterling]. ISBN 1-90427-145-6.

In his exemplary introduction to this much-needed volume, Ton Hoenselaars claims that he aims to bring the 'Cinderella' issue of translation into the centrefield of Shakespeare studies. No less usefully, however, Hoenselaars also brings Shakespeare into the centrefield of translation studies: though individual articles and book chapters have discussed drama translation, this is the first book I know of that is dedicated to the topic. Hoenselaars outlines translation as language transfer that also involves 'trading between cultures, between different ways of imagining the world' (p. 2, citing Michael Neill). He then sites Shakespeare's plays within the Renaissance's 'preoccupation with translation' between and among Latin, Greek, and the European vernaculars. Describing Shakespeare's use of classical sources and early translations of his plays, Hoenselaars shows how adaptation and cheerful plagiarism reigned: only with the Romantics' stress on the source writer's 'exclusive genius' (p. 9) did fidelity become the translator's dominant ethic.

Fidelity is often not easy, as several contributors explain. Thus, in Twelfth Night, the cross-dressed Viola and his/her master Orsino flirtingly subvert differences of gender and social rank--differences whose linguistic expressions in English are subtle and optional. In Japanese, however, as Tetsuo Kishi beguilingly shows, these are overt and unavoidable, forcing a Japanese Viola to make himself too much of a man or reveal herself as a woman.

The type of fidelity can also vary. For Shakespeare students, Werner Bronnimann advocates literal translations with exegetic footnotes. Jean-Michel Deprats, by contrast, explains passionately and convincingly how directors and actors need a version that conveys the rhythmic pulse, tone, and gestic potential of Shakespeare's lines. Deprats, however, like Alessandro Serpieri, stresses that the translator should keep faith both with stagecraft and with text. Thus Serpieri shows how his painstaking editorial unteasing of the First Quarto Hamlet enabled him to produce a stageable Italian version of a text normally seen as corrupt.

Translators rarely advocate fidelity to Shakespeare's archaic texture, however: virtually all translate the plays into a contemporary idiom. This, as several contributors point out, makes the translated plays easier to understand by 'foreign' than by native English audiences, and also inevitably inscribes them with contemporary implications. Thus Alexander Shurbanov and Boika Sokolova describe how, in 1940s-1950s Bulgaria, the Shakespeare translator Lubomir Ognyanov stressed the 'vigour and simplicity of ordinary speech [...] at the expense of the richness of figurative expressions', thus positioning Shakespeare as a proto-Marxist playwright.

Recently, the very ethic of fidelity has been challenged. In postcolonial critics' eyes, faithful translations of the towering figure in the English-language literary canon risk reinforcing the global hegemony of Anglo-American culture. Shakespeare translation, however, as Alfredo Michel Modenessi forcefully argues, can equally well convey anti-hegemonic values--for example, by privileging Mexican working-class speech, or (as in Martin Orkin's essay) the multilingual discourses of the new South Africa. Modenessi argues, however, that such tactics do not 'betray' Shakespeare: indeed, they release Shakespeare's original subversiveness, which his canonization has concealed. Translation, however, can also add to the original's potential, as Walter Benjamin and Jacques Derrida have argued. Thus, in Yael Farber's 'Africanized' Julius Caesar (Orkin: pp. 277-285), Porsha's [sic] use of Tswana to Brutas's Zulu gives her 'equal authority with his, supplying a separate cultural resonance that is set against his as well as that of the Shakespearean text'.

Through these and other, no less fascinating themes, this volume expertly describes the richness and strangeness that literary translation brings to world culture. It should be obligatory reading for Shakespeare scholars and literary-translation scholars alike.


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Author:Jones, Francis
Publication:The Modern Language Review
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jul 1, 2006
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