Translating Shakespeare for the theatre

Jean-Michel Déprats


Translate Shakespeare for the theatre? The question is not purely rhetorical. In his Memoires, Jean Vilar, speaking of his work as an actor, raises the question of whether it is even possible to translate dramatic texts:

Macbeth. Whilst learning my part alone at home in the
morning, I keep on saying to myself , ‘Never again will I
perform translated plays, not even those of Shakespeare.’
Translations either emasculate the original so that the actors
may ‘utter’ a French which is straightforward, or at least
authentic, or force us to chew up and spit out a stodgy French,
weighed down by the burden of the English. My friend
Curtis, the translator, can’t help it. Remaining faithful to the
original text makes the French prose heavy, but to stray from
the original is a crime. So what can we do? (131)

This dilemma, so accurately put into words by Vilar, brings us to the question: when translating a Shakespeare play for performance, must we incorporate into our work aims which curtail the usual demands of translation? What is specific about translating for the theatre? Or rather, what demands must a French translation of a dramatic text meet
if it is to make performance possible?


English Language; English


Copyright (c) 1999 Jean-Michel Déprats

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