Shakespeare’s Language and a Translation Exercise
The purpose of this article is to analyse another section of Shakespeare’s English in a selected excerpt from his Troilus and Cressida,
and provide a translation of the passage together with an argumentation of the methodology used during the translation process. The excerpt I decided to translate is taken from the end of the first act, when the two Greek commanders Ulysses and Nestor plot so that Ajax, rather than Achilles, faced Hector in order not to display the real strength of their army:
ULYSSES Give pardon to my speech:
Therefore ‘tis meet Achilles meet not Hector.
Let us, like merchants, show our foulest wares,
And think perchance they’ll sell; if not,
The lustre of the better yet to show
Shall show the better. Do not consent
That ever Hector and Achilles meet,
For both our honour and our shame in this
Are dogged with two strange followers.
NESTOR I see them not with my old eyes. What are they?
ULYSSES What glory our Achilles shares from Hector,
Were he not proud, we all should wear with him.
But he already is too insolent;
And we were better parch in Afric sun
Than in the pride and salt scorn of his eyes
Should he scape Hector fair. If he were foiled,
Why then we did our main opinion crush
In taint of our best man. No, make a lott’ry,
And by device let blockisch Ajax draw
The sort to fight with Hector; among ourselves
Give him the allowance as the worthier man,
For that will physic the great Myrmidon,
Who broils in loud applause, and make him fall
His crest that prouder than blue Iris bends.
If the dull brainless Ajax come safe off,
We’ll dress him up in voices; if he fail,
Yet we go under our opinion still
That we have better men. But, hit or miss,
Our project’s life this shape of sense assumes:
Ajax employed plucks down Achilles’ plumes.
NETOR Now, Ulysses, I begin to relish thy advice,
And I will give a taste of it forthwith
To Agamemnon. Go we to him straight.
Two curs shall tame each other; pride alone
Must tar the mastiffs on, as ‘twere their bone.
At first sight, it is immediately clear that the language used is not too obsolete in terms of vocabulary, which will be discussed in the following section to better explain the choices I made during the translation process. In this paragraph, I expose the linguistic analysis I carried out, which represents the preliminary phase of my methodological approach to this kind of translation.
First and foremost, I tried to comprehend the relationship between the speakers, which does not appear straightforward: a certain level of informality seems to characterize their language, for example because of abbreviation (‘tis instead of it is at line 359, they’ll andwe’ll instead of ‘they/we shall’or ‘they/we will’– not yet standardized – at line 361 and at line 383, lott’ry instead of ‘lottery’ at line 375, and ‘twere instead of ‘it were’at line 392). Nonetheless, the way of personal addressing is nonreciprocal, since Nestor uses T with Ulysses (thy advice at line 388) but receives V, as it can be inferred from the previous verses (e.g. in addressing Nestor at line 313, Ulysses says Be you my time to bring it to some shape). Moreover, Ulysses’ expressions without the second personal pronoun confer an attitude of respect and deference towards Nestor (Give pardon at line 358 and Do not consent at line 363).
This nonreciprocal power-semantic may be due to the fact that probably Nestor is older than Ulysses (previously Nestor, referring to himself, says He is old now, but there is no mention of Ulysses’ age) or is of higher rank in the army. Talking of pronouns, the use of who at line 380 (with reference to Myrmidon) appears noteworthy, because it was introduced as a relative marker just during the Early Modern period, and it was not until the XVI century that this pronoun came into current use form human antecedents.
Then, I analysed the grammatical categories of noun, adjective, verb and word order.
As far as the noun is concerned, the s-plural appears generalized: even eyes (line 372) appears in the current form instead of ‘eyen’, sometimes used by Shakespeare. Moreover, there is an apostrophe to mark possession at line 387 (Achilles’), although Shakespeare sometimes did not use it. On the other hand, a non-standardized spelling occurs at line 371 (Afric instead of ‘Africa’). Regarding the adjective, despite Shakespeare was used to non-standardized forms or double comparatives and superlatives,in this excerpt correct forms appear with foulest(line 360), better (repeated at lines 362, 363, 371, 385), worthier (line 378) and prouder (line 381). As regards the verb, I pinpointed several elements. First of all, there is no auxiliary do in the expressions meet not (line 359) and see them not (line 367), since its use in negative sentences was still optional in Early Modern English; nevertheless, the negative structure resembles the current habit, as sometimes the adverb was placed before the verb because of the lack of the auxiliary.On the other hand, the periphrastic do is used at line 363 (Do not consent) and at line 364 (we did our main opinion crush), probably to produce a more emphatic effect.
Furthermore, the correct forms of are (e.g. at line 366) and were (e.g. at line 369) ought to be highlighted,
because Shakespeare sometimes preferred the older forms ‘art’ and ‘wert’.The right inflection appears also with the third person singular: there are indeed shares at line 368 and assumes at line 386. Besides, it is significant the usage of the subjunctive, which had a more expressive role in Early Modern English marking hypothetical, conjectural and volitional expressions, while in Present English its functions have been replaced by the indicative mood and modal auxiliaries: instances of present subjunctive appear at line 359 (Achilles meet, a kind of exhortation), at line 382 (If […] Ajax come) and at line 383 (If he fail), while examples of past subjunctive occur at line 373 (If he were foiled) and at line 392 (as ‘twere). With regards to the word order, the pattern subject-verb-object that became fixed during the Early Modern period, is followed except for some inversions: instances occur at line 370 (he already is, because of the adverbial element), at lines 384 and 390 (go we, probably to emphasize the action) and at line 386 (the verb assumes occurs in last position at the end of the verse to create a rhyme with the following plumes). At last, as far as sound patterns are concerned, I noted the repetition of meet (line 359, but with different meanings) and of better […] show – show […] better (lines 362 and 363), the internal rhyme of merchants – perchants (lines 360 and 361) and the rhyming couplets, usual at the end of the acts, of assumes – plumes (lines 386 and 387) and of alone – bone (lines 391 and 392). The name Ajax is noteworthy too, since it was pronounced as ‘a jakes’ where ‘jakes’ in Elizabethan English meant ‘lavatory’;nevertheless, this pun does not create rhymes with other words nor I tried to recreate it in my Italian version, although it gives information about the personal attitude of the character and how he was considered.
Following Malone’s model, here I list instances of his translation strategies from my Italian versions,
commenting only few ones, which I consider more interesting. Reordering occurs at lines: 364, 365, 369, 374, 381, 382, 384, 387, 388, 389, 390, 391 and 392; they are usually due to better suit the Italian word-order. Nevertheless, in the last two verses, for example, I reordered the original structure to recreate the rhyme couplet. Occurrences of substitution appear at lines: 364 (the noun incontro replaces the verb because of space constraints and also to semantically recall the physical clash), 375 (caduta, literally ‘fall’ here in the sense of ‘loss’, rather than the Italian word ‘macchia’, whose meaning is retained in the previous infangare), 383 (lodi instead of the equivalent ‘voci’ to confer a sense of esteem) and 385 (I chose Vincitori o vinti to retain the idiomatic expressions). On the other hand, cases of substitution regarding the aspect of verbs occur at lines 368 (può ricevere instead of ‘riceve’ to mean a hypothesis) and 385 (the infinitive di avere replaces the literally present ‘che abbiamo’). I do not submit instances of present aspect with future value, which I usually rendered with the Italian simple future.
On this, although subjunctives were more frequently used in Elizabethan English and most of them are currently expressed through the indicative mood,
I decided to translate them with the Italian subjunctive, as I considered it more fluent and appropriate to the reverential tone used by Ulysses with Nestor. The most significance examples of divergence occur at lines: 358 (I chose chiacchiere for the original speech, which has a Germanic root, to mark its tone that is lower than the previous Give pardon, which has a Latin root), 359 (si imbatta in instead of ‘incontri’to preserve the repetition of meetthrough the sound pattern related to the letter ‘b’ with the previous è bene), 360 (I preferred mercanzia to compensate the loss of the original internal rhyme merchants – perchance with the pattern mercanti – mercanzia), 366 (I selected tormentati da due strani segugi to retain the original meaning of two hunting entities), 375 (I chose riffa which is a popular word so as to retain the original low tone of lott’ry), 379 (I decided to translate with sarà un medicamento because the Italian noun I used is quite obsolete so I considered it more suitable to convey the original meaning) and 391 (I opted for cagnacci to maintain a similar level of disdain without changing the semantic field).
Other examples of divergence
at lines: 374 (vinto), 376 (testone and trucco), 380 (freme), 388 (gustare), 389 (prontamente), 391 (domare) and 392 (aizzare). As far as the amplification is concerned, there are occurrences at lines 361 (se così non fosse for if not, adding a verb), 365 (sia da essofor in this, adding a verb) and 377 (da parte nostra for among ourselves): this strategy is mostly due to a matter of rhythm.
Examples of reduction, again for a matter of rhythm, are clear at lines: 362 linked to 363 (I omitted the first better to avoid redundancy), 372 (I translated salt scorn with scherno to avoid a verse extremely long which could seem dispersive), 374 (the whole verse is reduced), 380 (I translated laut applause with applausi, again because of redundancy), 382 (dull branless is translated with senza-cervelloto avoid a tautology), 386 (I chose progettofor project’s life because of a question of length) and 392 (I omitted aloneoccurring at the previous line, which I completely reordered). Regarding condensation, there are instances due to linguistic fluency at lines 358 (Perdonate for Give pardon, which have the same etymological root), 361 (supponiamo for think perchance, quite losing the poetic tone of perchance given by its Latin root), 377 (The sort to fight with Hector is condensed in A scontrarsi con Ettore), 378 (Lo tratteremo for Give him the allowance), and 380 (abbassiamogli for and make him fall). At last, occurrences of diffusion adopted to better bring out the original meaning appear at lines 369 (se solo non fosse superbo for the concise were he not proud), and 384 (I translated yet go we under our opinion still with potremmo ancora fregiarci dell’opinione).
In conclusion, the overall approach is not strictly word-for-word but sense-for-sense,
in order to preserve as much as possible of the original content, though not at the expense of the form. The attempt to render the iambic pentameter into the ‘endecasillabo’ (Italian verse of 11 syllables) revealed itself too challenging, but I tried to maintain the length of each verse and some sound patterns. There is no attempt of modernization, rather the translation appears more foreignized than domesticated (following Venuti’s distinction)or, in other words, more source-oriented instead of target-oriented. Lastly, the core of my methodology was not the declamation on stage: to be performed, my translation needs further revisions and proofreading.
Gli articoli di traduzione relativi a Troilus and Cressida provengono da riflessioni degli studenti della professoressa Plescia, la quale ha trattato il dramma e le varie proposte traduttive durante le sue lezioni.
- Baugh, A. C. & Cable, T., 2003. A History of the English Language, London, Routledge.
- Brown, R. & Gilman, A., ‘The Pronouns of Power and Solidarity’, in Sebeok, T. A. (ed.), 1960. Style in Language, MIT Press.
- Crystal, D., 2008. Think on My Words: Exploring Shakespeare’s Language, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
- Dore, M., 2008.The Audiovisual Translation of Humor: Dubbing the First Series of the TV Comedy Programme Friends into Italian, Lancaster University (not published doctoral thesis).
- Malone, J. L., 1988. The Science of Linguisticcs in the Art of Translation, Albany, State University of New York Press.
- Mazzon, G., ‘Shakespearean thou and you revisited, or socio-affective networks on stage’, in Nocera Avila, C., Pantaleo, N. & Pezzini, D. (eds.), 2006. An Introduction to Early Modern English, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press.
- Munday, J., 2012. Introducing translation strategies. Theories and Applications, third edition,Routledge.
- Shakespeare, W., Fusini, N. & Plescia, I., 2015. Troilo e Cressida, Feltrinelli Editore
- On this subject, please refer to Brown, R. & Gilman, A., ‘The Pronouns of Power and Solidarity’, in Sebeok, T. A. (ed.), 1960. Style in Language, MIT Press, pp. 253-278. On Shakespeare’s usage of T/V system, see Mazzon, G., ‘Shakespearean thou and you revisited, or socio-affective networks on stage’, in Nocera Avila, C., Pantaleo, N. & Pezzini, D. (eds.), 2006. An Introduction to Early Modern English, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, pp. 121-136.
- On grammatical features during the Early Modern period, see Baugh, A. C. & Cable, T., 2003. A History of the English Language, London, Routledge, chapter 8.
- Crystal, D., 2008. Think on My Words: Exploring Shakespeare’s Language, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press Crystal, chapter 8.
- Baugh & Cable, chapter 8.
- Crystal, chapter 8.
- Ibidem, chapter 6.
- The translation strategies are based on Malone’s model: see Malone, J. L., 1988. The Science of Linguisticcs in the Art of Translation, Albany, State University of New York Press.
- On compensation see Delabastita, 1996: 134, Harvey, 1995, Chiaro, 2004: 42 & Ranzato, 2010, quoted in Dore, M., 2008. The Audiovisual Translation of Humor: Dubbing the First Series of the TV Comedy Programme Friends into Italian, Lancaster University (not published doctoral thesis).
- The distinction goes back to Cicero and St. Jerome: for a more specific discussion, please refer to Munday, J., 2012. Introducing translation strategies. Theories and Applications, third edition,Routledge, chapter 2.
- Ibidem, chapter 9.