One of the things I have enjoyed about studying Literary Translation is being given texts that I have never been faced with before or would never have thought myself capable of doing. From nonsense rhyme to a psychological thriller, we have had a wide range of texts put in front of us. But there has been one genre that I knew was going to be quite a challenge for me: Drama. Everyone who goes to school in England will have had their fair share of Shakespeare. I completed my secondary education in Turkey and we did not study English Literature. The fact that I have never studied the genre I’m translating may not be such an issue; I can read the play and get a sense of what is going on and the style it has been written in. But no, the play in question is Tom Stoppard’s The Invention of Love. For all I know I may as well be translating Carroll’s Jabberwocky again! But at least those were made up words. This is nonsense in a language that I can actually speak. I have never really felt at a disadvantage before when translating from or into English. But this time I’m not so sure of myself. As for the references, those are a completely different matter.
I start translating the first two lines into Turkish and already there is a problem.
Charon ‘Belay the painter there, sir!’
From the introduction I already know that someone is approaching the bank of the Styx. I look up what ‘belay’ means and it turns out to be a term that means to fasten or secure. So there’s a painter approaching the bank of the Styx and Charon is ordering someone to moor the boat. After having translated about a page or more I realise that this person is not actually a painter, but a Professor with a possible personality disorder. And that the reference to ‘the painter’ is the Victorian art critic John Ruskin who appears a few lines down in the play. There are many more references to Oxford and mythology in the text which makes it especially difficult when translating for a Turkish audience. I do not want to under mind them but I doubt they would get the references at all. What do I do then? Do I try and find an equivalent, or do I just leave it as it is? The setting of the play is so particular I think I need to leave it as it is, plus there is no equivalent that I can think of. Another aspect of the text that I thought might be a problem was the use of Latin and Ancient Greek. This is where I feel at a disadvantage on behalf of my Target Culture. I am afraid of having already alienated them with my references to Oxford and now they have to struggle with dead languages. But wait, Stoppard has saved me the trouble and has provided translations in English. All is not lost after all!
Of course there are many other issues related to the translation of Drama. I have to think about the target audience of the text. Is this going to be read by an academic or am I translating for the purpose of a performance? Does the dialogue flow as well as in the original? Should I just trust my language abilities and leave the rest to the audience?
After all this complaining I am glad I got given this assignment. As translators we may not always (or never) be lucky enough to pick what we want to translate and should be willing to give different genres a go. However hard I found the translation of this play, I have not thrown the towel in yet with Drama. Although next time I might start with something a bit easier!
Selin translates from French and Turkish into English. She is currently studying the MA in Literary Translation at UEA where she did her undergrad in Modern Languages. Her literary interests include magical realism and crime fiction and she occasionally translates Turkish poetry.