Translatign Culture

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Translating Culture Coursework 1: Compare and evaluate the translations of Goethe’s Faust I by Anna Swanwick and Howard Brenton regarding the translators’ intentions and strategies

Both translators of Goethe’s Faust, namely Anna Swanwick (written 1878) and Howard Brenton (1995) have used very different styles when translating. The original text, Faust Part I, is a tragic play written by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe published in 1808. It consists of three preliminary sections and twenty-five scenes. The rhyme scheme is known as “Knüttelvers” and was popular during the Renaissance. It consists of four accented syllables in every line and an AABB or ABAB rhyming pattern. The main theme throughout the book is man’s life on earth and the constant striving for knowledge and power.

In her translation, Swanwick clearly employs Nida’s (1969) ‘Dynamic Equivalence’ approach. Nida describes this as the “quality of translation in which the message of the original text has been so transported… that the response of the receptor is essentially that of the original receptors”. That is to say that the target text is so close in terms of register, rhyme, syntax and meter that the reader of this target text should have the same experience when reading, as someone reading the original source text in its original language. Thus, it is quite clear that Swanwick’s version has strong source text bias, as she stays very faithful to Goethe’s original text throughout. One reason for this could be that, as she could understand the German language of the original, which meant that she had a better relationship with the text and consequently stayed very faithful to it when translating. On the other hand, Brenton has not so much translated the text, but rather based his text on a literal transition by Christa Weisman and adapted it for a theatre production. Consequently, there have been many alterations, redactions and sometime omissions. His writing style is clearly meant for a modern audience, which differs from that of Swanwick, as he uses modern language that is neither archaic nor antiquated. His method of translating is relatively free with clear target text bias, as has written it with his target audience in mind, and has less relationship with the original text, which could come from his lack of being able to understand the original German text. There is also a definite use of humorous language throughout his version, which matches his intention of writing a version for the theatre. One example of this is in Goethe’s version on line 2648 “Freude” which Brenton rendered as “Wham-bam thank-you-very-much sex”. This is clearly intended to entertain and fits in with Brenton’s strategy of translating for a theatre audience, however, this changes the meaning of what was meant in the original, but this does in fact fit in with his very free approach to translating. Swanwick however, stuck very close to the original and used “pleasure”, which again corresponds to her dynamic approach to translation and staying close to the original and conveying the meaning as faithfully as possible. This is a similar theme throughout the translations. Another example of this is on line 3338 “Kuppler” which Brenton has translated as “pimp” whereas Swanwick has used “pander”. Brenton has clearly chosen a word that would fit a modern audience and would be amusing, whereas Swanwick has used a word that is archaic; however, this is to be expected as she wrote her translation during the Victorian era, which was marked by reservation and politeness. Although the two terms used, both have the same meaning, this is a clear example of each translator’s strategies and intentions.

When reading Brenton’s version, is it obvious that he has taken certain liberties when writing his translation. In various cases, he has sacrificed a lot of the content for conciseness. An example of this is in the scene “Auerbacks Keller in Leipzig” in which Brenton places the ‘Rat song’ within...
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