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Scott Kaiser on Translating Shakespeare into... English.


In September, 2015, The Oregon Shakespeare announced its plan to translate every play attributed to William Shakespeare into modern English. The Festival is commissioning a diverse group of 36 playwrights, each paired with a dramaturg, to carry out the task.  

Scott Kaiser, Director of Co. Development
Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Scott Kaiser, Director of Co. Development Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Oregon Experience

The first play to receive this treatment was Shakespeare’s “Timon of Athens,” translated in 2010/2011 by dramatist and translator Kenneth Cavander.  

OSFs Scott Kaiser, himself a scholar and admirer of Shakespeare’s original language, has written a fine essay, “Translating Timon,” which provides before-and-after examples of what Cavander’s “English-to-English” translation looks like.  

“In [this] example, Timon, living alone in the wilderness, compares humans to beasts with Apemantus:  

TIMON: Wert thou a leopard, thou wert germane to the lion, and the spots of thy kindred were jurors on thy life—all thy safety were remotion and thy defence, absence.
[Original text, Act IV, Scene 3]  

The word “germane” is not obsolete, but obscure—it means “near related, closely akin.”   And the word “remotion,” which appears only twice in Shakespeare, means “removal, or departure.” In his translation, Cavander removes the confusion: 

TIMON: If you were a leopard, you’d be first cousin to a lion, only with spots, and those spots of your relatives would be evidence of your bad character—you’d be safe only if you stayed under cover, your defence, absence.”
(Cavander translation]

(from “Translating Timon” - Scott Kaiser, 2012) 

Scott Kaiser. Translation

“The other thing about translation is the idea that Germans and Italians and people who speak French and Japanese actually have an easier time with Shakespeare than we do, because if you’re a Japanese speaker and you’re reading a translation of Shakespeare, you get every word. It’s been translated in Japanese for you. If you’re German, you get every word because it’s been translated into German for you.  

It’s only English speakers that have to struggle….”


Producer/Writer: Eric Cain


 

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