Shakespeare and Voltaire

By Thomas R. Lounsbury | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XVII
LETOURNEUR'S TRANSLATION OF SHAKESPEARE

THE partial translation of Shakespeare by La Place Voltaire had found fault with repeatedly. He had censured it in particular for what he called its unfaithfulness. Much written by the English dramatist had in his opinion been modified or omitted in order to adapt the language employed to the delicacy and politeness of the French. La Place's version was confessedly only of parts of plays, not of the whole of them. He had naturally selected those scenes which struck him as most characteristic of his author or which would exhibit him at his best. The feeling had now come to amount almost to a mania with Voltaire that those passages should be chosen by preference which would exhibit him at his worst. This was the only way in which a real knowledge of the English theatre could be conveyed to his countrymen.

Fragmentary and inadequate as was in many ways this translation, it had assuredly accomplished a great deal in making the French acquainted with Shakespeare. Still, it was not a work that could impart genuine or thorough knowledge of the dramatist. Nor could it have done so, had the rendering been infinitely better than it was. For that it was altogether too imperfect. While, therefore, it had annoyed Voltaire, it had not caused him any anxiety. He felt indeed a certain confidence in the triumph of his

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