What Translators of Plays Think About Their Work

Marja Jänis
Savonlinna School of Translation Studies

This study used loosely conducted interviews to determine how translators of plays see their work, including their position towards the theatre. Different ways of performing the act were reported, along with different attitudes towards the use of background materials. Significant differences were found in what was considered most essential in translating a play: some stressed the need to visualize events during translation while others emphasized the audible aspects of the dialogue. Some translators portrayed themselves as 'invisible mediators', unconcerned with any future performance, whereas others claimed to be working consciously towards one. A third group described their work as 'art' and stressed the need to liberate themselves from the slavery of the source text and find a language of their own.

Table of contents

Translations of plays have recently been of interest from various points of view. Scholars have sought to design a model for drama translation (Fischer- Lichte 1988; Zuber-Skerritt 1988; Pavis 1989), or look at translating plays as [ p. 342 ]historically and culturally determined behaviour (Schultze 1987; Brisset 1989; articles in Schultze et al. 1990), or transfer plays from page to stage or from one culture to another (Carlson 1989; articles in Scolnicov and Holland 1989; Pavis 1992). My own study of three Finnish translations of Chekhov's Tri sestry [Three Sisters] (Jänis 1991) was also mainly concerned with such issues. In the meantime, however, I have come to believe that interviews with translators, dramaturges, and other persons concerned with translations for the theatre, could yield new insights into the question of why plays are translated as they are at a certain time in a certain cultural environment. The information thus elicited could then be used in further, and more systematic studies on various other aspects of play translation.

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