About that translation of Britannicus…

I’ve been thinking about Timberlake Wertenbaker’s Britannicus translation, which seemed both natural and highly effective to me. Racine didn’t really do sparkly poetic bling, but I think the nearest thing might be Nero’s speech about seeing Junia from Act II Sc 2:

Excité d’un désir curieux,
Cette nuit je l’ai vue arriver en ces lieux,
Triste, levant au ciel ses yeux mouillés de larmes,
Qui brillaient au travers des flambeaux et des armes,
Belle, sans ornements, dans le simple appareil
D’une beauté qu’on vient d’arracher au sommeil.
Que veux−tu ? Je ne sais si cette négligence,
Les ombres, les flambeaux, les cris et le silence,
Et le farouche aspect de ses fiers ravisseurs,
Relevaient de ses yeux les timides douceurs,
Quoi qu’il en soit, ravi d’une si belle vue,
J’ai voulu lui parler, et ma voix s’est perdue :
Immobile, saisi d’un long étonnement,
Je l’ai laissé passer dans son appartement.
J’ai passé dans le mien. C’est là que, solitaire,
De son image en vain j’ai voulu me distraire.
Trop présente à mes yeux je croyais lui parler,
J’aimais jusqu’à ses pleurs que je faisais couler.
Quelquefois, mais trop tard, je lui demandais grâce ;
J’employais les soupirs, et même la menace.
Voilà comme, occupé de mon nouvel amour,
Mes yeux, sans se fermer, ont attendu le jour.
Mais je m’en fais peut−être une trop belle image,
Elle m’est apparue avec trop d’avantage :
Narcisse, qu’en dis−tu ?

In the translation we have:

It was curiosity–
I saw her come to the palace last night.
She lifted her tear-filled eyes to the skies,
tears that glinted more brightly than weapons, flames–
Lovely, without ornaments, and simply
dressed with the beauty of one still asleep.
What can I say? Was it this scant cover,
the shadows, torches, cries and then silence
or the fierce look of those who were holding her
bringing out the soft shyness of her eyes?
I don’t know–I was entranced by this sight–
I tried to speak to her, my voice left me.
I was rooted to the spot, struck, amazed,
and I let her walk by me to her rooms.
I went to my own rooms and there, alone,
I tried to free myself from her image.
But she was there, before my eyes, I spoke
to her–my love ignited by her tears–
those tears I had caused. Sometimes–but too late–
I asked for her forgiveness, using sighs,
or, when I needed to, terrible threats.
That’s how I spent the whole night–without sleep:
but perhaps I’ve embellished her image–
she appeared to me in too soft a light.
What do you think, Narcissus?

So.  The original in in alexandrines (rhymed iambic hexameter) obviously enough, while the translation–has about ten syllables a line, and that’s about all I can think to say about the prosody.  The translation certainly gets all of the ideas out and across; it took me 77 seconds to read aloud as against 105 for the original.  That lends weight to what one commentator on this production said about the English preference for people doing things on stage as opposed to just talking to each other.

Isn’t the point about Racine that he was writing Huis Clos all the time–a small group of people trapped together by their mutual loathing and dependence?  And the way that things are held formly in place by his alexandrines reflects that or indeed embodies it?  Well that’s not something you could reproduce in English, at least I rather hope not…

Advertisements

Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: