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Theorising Theatre Translation
Ref. S. Aaltonen, Time-Sharing On Stage (ch.2)
• Literary texts live within a given cultural
• they are the outcome of an author
• author = cultural product of
– Times
– social group
– Breed
– cultural and economic background
Movement of texts
• different cultural systems
• different original background
• different reception of texts
evaluation and analysis
interdisciplinary framework made up of
translation studies, theatre studies, cultural,
literary, communication studies
crossing the borders
material act
cultural act
the text enters a different cultural world as well
as a different linguistic and socially organized
original meaning of text has to be reorganized
original reading not necessarily imposed on
Readings result of relations:
- among signifiers
- between signifiers and readers/audiences
Readings result of different interactions due to
variation of readers/audiences.
context generates reading.
If context changes, reading changes
Reading linked to the linguistic, sociocultural, and
theatrical context
movement of theatrical texts across borders
often implies translation
act of translation unavoidable in different
geographical varieties, and different
sociolinguistic varieties
translating often implies new approach to text,
and new readings
translation depends on reading translator gives
of text
No text can be completely original because
language itself in its very essence is always a
translation – first from the nonverbal world,
and then, because each sign and each phrase
is a translation of another sign, another
phrase. However, the inverse is also entirely
valid. All texts are originals because each
translation has its distinctive character. Up to
a point, each translation is a creation and
thus constitutes a unique text.
(O. Paz)
Comparison between translated and source
some features of meaning construction become
thanks to
multitude of meanings resulting from crossing
cultural and linguistic boundaries
In related cultural systems dominant themes
can still be shared
Summing up:
• translation implies transforming the original
• original text never reappears in the target
• but it is there
Main aim of translation:
- expressing the text
- converting the text into a verbal formula
(reproduction and different object at once)
Translational activity and translational decision
making guided by idiolect ↓
in this context specific approach or
discourse ↓
functional to a given system &
based on contextual elements and text
• Even Zohar → Intra-literary relations
• Lefevere → extra-literary links
• Toury → study of translational norms and
conventions ↓
– polysystem theory: complex cultural activities
need taking into account both the diachronic and
synchronic dimensions of a socio-cultural system.
The creation of an “open system of systems”
allows explaining cultural complexity
• Even-Zohar/Lefevere: systems as open
structures with vague borders.
• Lefevere: literary system as an artificial
system consisting of objects (texts) and those
who read/write/rewrite them.
• Rewriting= manipulating (under a series of
constraints) literature to various ends.
• Rewriters = translators, historians, compilers
of anthologies ↓
• can choose to remain within parameters
imposed by constraints of their culturesystem
• can choose to operate outside constraints.
• translators’ work influenced by target system
• translators’ survival depends on acceptance
of system conventions or on tolerance of
Lefevere: professionals (critics, reviewers,
teachers, translators) control literary system
from the inside respecting ideological
parameters set by patronage ↓
patrons = groups of people, religious body,
political party, social class, publishers, media.
Patronage guided by ↓
• Ideology implies choice and development of
both form and content
• economy implies reward granted by
• status implies integration into a particular
• When written foreign text crosses the
boundaries, it has to pass through several
• once on stage, the spoken element takes over
• voice = outcome of both theatrical system
and surrounding social/cultural/linguistic
• discourse of theatre translation = part of
discourse of entire cultural system
• Theatrical systems = living organisms which tend
to merge into other systems, creating a web of
various subsystems.
• Theatre texts not necessarily synonymous with
dramatic texts
• theatre texts = texts used in the theatre
• dramatic texts = texts which function as literary
texts and not necessarily used in the theatre.
• Drama translation includes translation for both
literary and theatrical system
• theatre translation confined to theatrical system
• Word drama used to refer to both written text and
theatrical performance
• in theatre translation written text is necessary
• Written dramatic texts may function outside
theatrical system (e.g. theatrical shows in media such
as radio, television)
• In a functional perspective, drama can be
distinguished because of its function: if a text is used
as a dramatic text, it is a dramatic text, and if it is
used on stage it becomes an element of the theatrical
• Both the oral and the written text are elements of the
theatrical system.
• staging of a text:
– not performative realisation of the text
– Not necessarily faithful to a dramatic text
because other elements belonging to the
theatrical system are involved
• Any text can be decoded in different ways by
different practitioners and performers
• Dramatic text is only one of the elements of
staging. All elements equally important.
• foreign drama needs integrating into
domestic system
• each theatrical and literary system has its
own norms and conventions
• 19th century: two different forms of drama
translation developed↓
– commercial translation (performance)
– aesthetic translation (classical texts for the
• Germany and England: considerable number of
printed drama translations, because literary
system provides texts for the production in the
theatre and can wait for a play to establish itself
before being performed. In England Methuen
leading publisher of drama, and it privileges
stage translations (not accurate repetition of
details of source text, rather translations which
predict possible meaning of play on stage)
• Italy: printed text of new plays usually after
successful performance
• Finland: began to print drama even before
establishment of a national theatre
• translation strategies vary according to
system translators work for.
• Dated translations →accepted within literary
→ revised or rewritten if
to be used in production
• Theatrical system= immediacy of orality
• literary system =permanence of written
• These two systems behave according to their
own rules.
• theatre translation more tied to its immediate
• theatre audience functions as a whole and in a
restricted time and place
• Orality, immediacy and communality (that is the
collective presence of the audience) introduce a
new dimension to the translation of texts. Out
of necessity, theatre translation rewrites or
adapts many aspects of the source text, and this
strategy finds its justification in the
requirements of the stage and in criteria such as
playability and speakability.
• Attributes of theatre translation:
These attributes mark the difference
between translation and adaptation, and are
used as synonyms to refer to faithful
translations where the source text has been
entirely translated.
literal = used to refer to transcription of
source text in TL (esp. with rare languages).
literary = applied to translations which follow
the conventions of the literary system (no
consideration of possible similarity or
dissimilarity to the conventions of theatre
adaptation = implies that text sounds natural
and playable (sometimes producing effects
not found in ST but conceived by adapter).
Translating implies creating a new text.
New text has a life of its own in another
Texts are always and inevitably built on other
texts, it is an endless chain.
In theatre translation one speaks of
adaptation, and features to be looked for are
speakability and playability.
Language of drama in functional relationship
to speaker, to listener and to norms of the
spoken language.
Of course it is not spoken language, rather it
is a stylised form of spoken language since it
is constrained by theatrical conventions, and
is built on the principle of easy graspability.
• short sentences
• words chosen on the basis of frequency
• sentence chains
• difficult consonant clusters
Attempts at defining speakability and
Pavis: speakability ↓
easy pronunciation (but no banality to get
a text that speaks well).
Language-body (union of speech and
Speakability not to be confused with
convenient pronunciation. It is functional to
generating theatrical meaning.
Speakability is not simplicity.
A playable speakability stresses the
significance of rhythm.
The language should follow the natural
rhythm of breathing.
The rhythm of speech is the key to
understanding the language of the stage.
Patterns of speech vary in time, they are in a
continuous process of change, therefore the
language of the stage has to follow this
continuous change.