PARIS (AFP) – All the world’s a stage but the irony is the rest of the globe often has an easier time understanding William Shakespeare than English speakers.
Thanks to frequently updated translations that dispense with the archaic Renaissance language, foreign audiences often find the Bard easier to follow.
Take King Lear, a new version of which opened at the Comedie Francaise in Paris last week.
In the original opening scene, the Earl of Kent reacts to being exiled by saying: “Sith thus thou wilt appear, Freedom lives hence, and banishment is here.”
The new French version translates as, “Since this is how you want to appear, freedom is elsewhere and exile is here” – a much simpler sentence to modern ears.
Olivier Cadiot, who wrote the new translation, said his job was “like removing the varnish from a portrait to create something a bit more fresh – not something vulgar and modern, but to strip it back a little to render it more alive.”
Mostly he aims for “fluidity and precision”, he told AFP, but he could not resist the occasional moment of playfulness, such as translating the famous phrase “every inch a king” into the very current-sounding “total royale”.
In English, many would consider such toying with the Bard sacrilegious.
There were howls of protest when the Oregon Shakespeare Company set out to translate his works into contemporary English in 2015 (“The danger to Shakespeare is real,” thundered one petition).
But that leaves many average theatre-goers unable to comprehend the world’s most-performed playwright.
“English audiences are at a disadvantage because the language has evolved and is more and more distant. They need footnotes, props and staging to understand,” said Shakespeare scholar at George Washington University Alexa Alice Joubin.
Indeed, a study by the British Council and YouGov in 2016 found that Shakespeare was considered more relevant in many non-English-speaking countries than back home.