On Drama Translation

Topics: Translation, Language, Literal translation Pages: 5 (1995 words) Published: November 10, 2008
On Drama Translation
Like their contemporary prose translators who were introducing Western fiction to China, budding dramatists were enthusiastic about bringing Western plays to the Chinese stage. The first play was staged in Japan from an adaptation of Lin Shu's translation of Uncle Tom's Cabin. A Chinese student in Japan named Li Shutong adapted the script. The play was put on by members of the Chun Liu (Spring Willow) Drama Society. Their performance marked a complete break from traditional theatrical practices. After the May 4th Movement, complete translations of plays were published and used in productions. Many established writers began to try their hand at writing scripts for the stage. Also in the introduction of foreign masterpieces, a lot of famous translators were produced. If we have a try at drama, we can find it very difficult, more difficult than the translation of novels. Actually, drama is very different from novel. And drama translation must be done in a much different way. First, drama scripts are written for stage performance. So the translated scripts must be suitable for the audience. But poems, prose and novels are written for reading. Though sometimes foreign scripts are produced only for reading, there are seldom the cases. Also the foreign playwrights would be against that. Second, drama performance is a comprehensive ways of acting. It is an audio-visual art, which needs lighting, stage properties, and sound effects. The lines by the actors contribute a great deal to the success of the play. The audience relies heavily on the lines of the play. Most of them are ordinary people, but not erudite scholars. The actors usually don’t repeat the words except for the sake of laying stress. If the lines are too obscure, the audience will get confused as a play goes on without a stop. Third, there aren’t any annotations in a stage performance. In a novel, the hidden intention of the characters, the natural and social background, cause and effect of the subtle changes of the emotions can be stated by the narrator. So the readers can grasp the whole text and better understand it. But in a play performance, the audience get information only from the lines of the characters. Further more, foreign playwrights often use puns or allusions in a play. It is really difficult to translate them in simple language due to the cultural differences. For example, an allusion in the original play may be very appropriate and enlightening. But a literal translation of it may cause great trouble to the Chinese. And an annotation for the allusion is not feasible because in stage performance, an actor can’t speak the annotation. He can only use sign language, stage properties to imply it. So drama translation sets higher standards for the translations. So the above-mentioned three characters of drama require a popular and simple language of the translation. For example, in the revised version of the translation by Yang xianyi of Pygmalion by Bernard Shaw, the translator adds some words, delegate some to make the second version simpler in diction and structure. Example 1:

The Mother: (to Clara) Give it to me. (Clara parts reluctantly) Now (to the girl) this is for your flowers. (Act I)
[First version]
母亲 (向克拉刺)把钱给我。(克拉刺勉强把钱叫给母亲)(向卖花女) 去,这是赔你的花的钱。[1](P.9)
[Second version]
母亲 (向克拉刺)把钱给我。(克拉刺勉强把钱叫给母亲)(向卖花女) 去,这是赔你的钱。[2](P.462)
In the first version, the translated sentence “这是赔你的花的钱”seems more faithful and close to the original text. But it is awkward sounding. But the revised version is easier for pronunciation and causes no cause in understanding: in the text, the money is surely the compensation for the flower but not other things. Example 2:

Algernon: Ah! That must be Aunt Augusta. Only relatives, or creditors, ever ring in that Wagnrian manner. This is from the Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, a line by Algergon, when he hears the rings of the bell. Wagner refers to a famous German playwright...

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