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Comedy dialogue in contemporary stage translation:
From transcoding to cannibalizing.

Mary Snell-Hornby

Until the early 1980s drama translation was given little scholarly attention in Translation Studies - great exceptions such as Shakespeare's plays were discussed mainly as literary texts rather than stage productions (cf. Bassnett 1998:134-5). Meanwhile two basic approaches have been developed, that based on theatre semiotics (e.g. Fischer-Lichte 1983) and the holistic concept (Snell-Hornby 1984). The latter sees the stage text as a multimodal genre (based on specific, largely nonverbal criteria) which above all provides potential for the dramatic performance, whereby its verbal components, like the musical score in a concert, are in themselves incomplete. The translated stage text is likewise written to be performed and needs to fulfil similar criteria of performability and speakability as its source text – these depend however, not only on the languages concerned, but also on individual or culture-specific theatrical conventions and acting styles. Beyond that, the status and complexity of the verbal text as stage dialogue, particularly as a problem for translation, vary tremendously with the individual subgenre, with the epoch and with the dramatist concerned: comedy, satire, multiple perspectives of intertextuality and word-play, irony and linguistic hybridity all intensify the translator’s problems.

One British playwright who provides an outstanding challenge for any translator is Tom Stoppard, and in comparison to other English dramatists he is noticeably under-represented on the Viennese stage (only one, The Real Thing/Das Einzig Wahre, has been staged twice, and some of his more recent plays, such as Indian Ink, have apparently not been produced at all). Of the seven plays listed, five were translated into German by Hilde Spiel (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, staged as Rosenkrantz und Güldenstern in 1967, was played in a version by H. Lunin, and for Arcadia/Arkadien, performed at the Theater in der Josefstadt after her death in 1990, no translator was given). Her translations are to a large extent "faithful" translations (sometime even "transcodings") of the verbal text with little consideration of the multiple perspectives, or the potential for the stage: stage texts as "literary" translation. The research project will investigate the background and reception of all the Vienna productions (e.g. analysis of the German scripts, information about the aims and course of the individual productions, where possible gained personally by interviewing those involved, and audience reaction as seen in reviews of the time). Comparisons will be made with Stoppard's own work in drama translation into English. The German versions of Stoppard's plays will then be contrasted with a selection of the many productions of translated British comedies in Vienna that present comparable verbal and nonverbal problems for the translator and similar potential for the producer, such as the numerous versions of Oscar Wilde's plays, culminating in the present "cannibalized" version of The Importance of Being Earnest in the Akademietheater, as based on Elfriede Jelinek's Ernst ist das Leben (2005).

Bassnett, Susan. 1998. "The Translation Turn on Cultural Studies", in: S. Bassnett and A. Lefevere (eds.), Constructing Cultures. Essays on Literary Translation. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, 123-140.

Fischer-Lichte, Erika. 1983. Das System der theatralischen Zeichen. Tübingen: Narr.

Snell-Hornby, Mary. 1984. "Sprechbare Sprache – Spielbarer Text. Zur Problematik der Bühnenübersetzung", in: R.J. Watts and U. Weidmann (eds.) Modes of Interpretation. Essays Presented to Ernst Leisi on the Occasion of his 65th Birthday. Tübingen: Narr. 101-116.

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