Academic journal article Bulletin of the Comediantes

A New Approach to Translatability: The Visibility of Lope De Vega's la Dama Boba for Contemporary English-Speaking Audiences

Academic journal article Bulletin of the Comediantes

A New Approach to Translatability: The Visibility of Lope De Vega's la Dama Boba for Contemporary English-Speaking Audiences

Article excerpt


ranslatability is a slippery term-one that has continually troubled a great many philosophers, theorists, and practitioners. It is a concept originally founded on the hypothesis that languages and cultures are open to different, although comparable, forms of understanding and assessment-whether qualitative or quantitative. It eventually solidified into a notion of broad-based commensurability and therefore, ultimately, into disuse. Languages and cultures are unique-and alive; in the terms proposed by this key concept, however, they have not been treated as such. This article is centrally concerned with looking at translatability not as the functioning of a commensurability but in terms of visibility, a refinement that allows us to go beyond the cultural essentialisms inherent in any notion of the commensurable and to refer instead to the density of cultural interests instantiated by the original text as the determinant of endeavours of the translator to make that text accessible and relatable to the new context, visible within its cultural purview. In the specific case of a play, its visibility is generated, in the first instance, by the contingency of its coordinates in time and space, and subsequently it is orchestrated by agents, whose own individuality is no less contingent, rather than by essentialised notions of linguistic or cultural comparability. By arguing for a new understanding of the term "translatability" and by asserting its application to theatre translation in terms of visibility rather than of what can or cannot be translated, we therefore allow creativity to be identified as central to the translation process.

Underpinning this discussion is the analysis of two translations of Lope de Vega's La dama boba, namely William Oliver's Lady Nitwit and David Johnston's The Lady Boba: A Woman of Little Sense. These particular translations are useful in assessing translatability as they clearly embody two distinct approaches: respectively, that of the translator who plays by the rules and is concerned with notions of faithfulness and accuracy, and that of the translator who is aware of his individuality as a contingent part of the process and who, as such, operates as a writer in his own right. It is important to state, at this point, that the objective of this article is not to devalue the work of one translator in order simply to praise that of the other, but much more importantly to highlight the advances and advantages that can be achieved in theatre translation by breaking free from prescriptive theory.

iFamoso lugar Illescas!

Interestingly, La dama boba opens at a crossroads: a small village between Toledo and Madrid named Illescas. Liseo and his servant Turin are on their way to the Court when they encounter Leandro, a traveller newly arrived from Madrid. Their meeting, followed by Leandro's allusion to Madrid as "una talega / de piezas, donde se anega / cuanto su máquina pare," presages the game of encuentros and desencuentros that is about to begin (1.107). And the stakes are high. Liseo, acknowledging the significance of finding themselves at a crossroads, explains:

Como aquí, Turin, se juntan

de la Corte y de Sevilla,

Andalucía y Castilla,

unos a otros preguntan,

unos de las Indias cuentan,

y otros con discursos largos

de provisiones y cargos,

cosas que al vulgo alimentan. (1.9-16)

Illescas is, indeed, a place of exchange, a place of travellers and journeys, a place of communication inhabited by difference. In short, it is a place of translation. So what better place to begin this discussion?

The crossroads, of course, suggests metaphors that resonate usefully with the process of translation. One such figure is that of the intersection, where contingent elements and random agents come together to create a product that is one amongst a myriad of possibilities. It can also characterise the double task of the translator as the mediator who looks back at the source text, language, and culture in order to write them forward in whatever new guise. …

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