Translating Life: Studies in Transpositional Aesthetics

Translating Life: Studies in Transpositional Aesthetics

Translating Life: Studies in Transpositional Aesthetics

Translating Life: Studies in Transpositional Aesthetics

Excerpt

A Midsummer Night's Dream is profoundly and constantly— though also delicately and humorously—concerned with processes of change, of translation from one state to another, and its audience is frequently made aware that for human beings translation—any kind of translation—is likely to be a difficult process requiring that obstacles be overcome, and that it may involve loss as well as gain. The most prominent, and most frequently discussed, aspect of translation in the play is from the unmarried to the married state. In no other play by Shakespeare is the process of courtship leading to marriage so central a concern. Almost all his comedies portray attempts to overcome obstacles to marriage, but at the end of most of them marriage is deferred, not accomplished. This play, however, opens with preparations for marriage, continues with the story of wooings at first thwarted but then successfully concluded, and ends with the celebration of not one but three marriages. But the transition from the unmarried to the married state is not the only form of translation with which the play is concerned, and I shall consider the idea less in relation to the lovers than to the labourers, or mechanicals, and especially Bottom. ‘Bless thee, Bottom, bless thee’, says Peter Quince at a climactic moment, ‘Thou art translated’ (III.i.113). But Bottom is a translator as well. I shall look at both roles, and I start with the passive rather than the active.

At the moment of his translation, Bottom's appearance wearing an ass's head comes to Quince and his fellows as a total, and unwelcome, surprise. It is a surprise for the audience, too, though one for which there has been, in Shakespeare's usual . . .

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