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Translating theatrical texts. Read Bassnett’s article attached Difficulty: dialectical relationship with the performance of that same text spatial or gestural dimension

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translating theatrical texts
Translating theatrical texts

Read Bassnett’s article attached


  • dialectical relationship with the performance of that same text
  • spatial or gestural dimension
  • to treat a written text that is part of a larger complex of sign systems, including paralinguistic and kinesic signs, as if it were a literary text created for the page and read as such.

Pavis: “translation in general and theatre translation in particular has changed paradigms: it can no longer be assimilated to a mechanism of production of semantic equivalence copied mechanically from the source text. It is rather to be conceived of as an appropriation of one text by another. Translation theory thus follows the general trend of theatre semiotics, reorienting its objectives in the light of a theory of reception”

  • Most of the existing literature on theatre translation consists of case studies of individual translations and translators, translators' prefaces or generalized remarks.
Filumenatranslated from the backstreets of Naples to the world stage – JOCELYNE VINCENT (Università «L’Orientale» – NAPOLI)
filumena marturano 1946 by eduardo de filippo 1900 1984
-Filumena Marturano- (1946) by Eduardo de Filippo (1900-1984)
  • Hismostwidelyperformed play, in Italy, and abroad(+/- 30 differentlanguages-manywithvariousversions)
  • Hisonly play with a Femalelead(writtenforhisactresssisterTitina, whoalsofoughtwithhim and won, tointerpretither way and tomodifyit-thusensuringits stage success in Italy)
  • His“dearest creature” a “social comedy”withvariousthemes and sub-themes:
    • Dignityof the strugglinglowerclasses;
    • hypocrisyof the bourgeoisie;
    • dignityofprostitutes (bynecessity),
    • recognitionofillegitimatechildren (as Eduardo and hisbrother and sisterwere);
    • male/femalepowerrelationship,
    • the importanceof family/ affectiveties,
    • the sentimental‘education’of the hypocritical, domineering male,
    • the non-negativityofdeception in the struggleforjustice and moralrights, etc.

and interpretations (accordingtoreviewers’ and others’comments)

- rangingfromseeingitas a farce to a serious social comedy, some indeeddiminishingitto a light comedy on the male mid-lifecrisis, uncertaintyofpaternity, and the wilyfemale, etc.

filumena features of the text
Filumena- features of the text
  • in Neapolitan (and Italian; code-switching/mixing)
  • Complexsociolinguistic situation in Naples (variousdegreesof diglossia, stronglysocially and emotionallycorrelated)
  • ‘High Context’ (implicit) ‘code’ (allusions, idioms, metaphors)
    • The general terms "high context" and "low context" (popularized by anthropologist Edward Hall – “proxemics”, the study of the human use of space within the context of culture) are used to describe broad-brush cultural differences between societies.
      • High context: societies or groups where people have close connections over a long period of time. Many aspects of cultural behavior are not made explicit because most members know what to do and what to think from years of interaction with each other. (ex.: a family, small religious congregations, a football team etc.)
      • Low context: societies where people tend to have many connections but of shorter duration or for some specific reason. In these societies, cultural behavior and beliefs may need to be spelled out explicitly so that those coming into the cultural environment know how to behave.

Characteristicsfullyexploitedby Eduardo tocharacterisehis‘people’ and to generate the humour/comedy and pathos

  • Considerable challenge totranslators, withconsequentpossibilityofgreatvarietyoftranslationapproaches and outcomes (at micro- and macro- levels) (and mixing) (nottomentionerrorsofinterpretation).
    • micro: e.g. deletion/avoidance/ re-writing/substitution/ equation/ colloquialism/ levelling/ free/nearliteralattempts (or not) to catch referentialmeanings, etc..
    • macro: fromdomesticationtoexoticism (and in between).
four english filumenas
Maria Tucci

In Maria Tucci’s 1996 version

dir. James Naughton

Williamstown New York,)

Four English Filumenas
  • BillieWhitelaw (Carlo Ardito’s 1976version) (1988- BBC Radio4)
  • JudiDench
  • Timberlake Wertenbaker’s1998version.
  • dir. Peter Hall-
  • London-Picadilly

Joan Plowright

Keith Waterhouse & Willis Hall’s

1977/78- version-dir. Franco Zeffirelli-LyricTheatre, London)

earlier in the 1970 s by male playwrights
Earlier: In the 1970’sby male playwrights


By Carlo Ardito



helpedby Isabella Quarantotti)

Liverpool UnityTheatre, 1977,

OctagonTeatreBolton 1982 (no reviewsfound)

(my text versionMethuenDrama 1998)-

first performed in 1988 BBC Radio 4,withBillieWhitelawasFilumena

(1956-earliest English adaptationofFilumenaby Hugh Herbert-“The Best House in Naples”withKatyJurado-floppedmiserably on Broadway-only 2 days-3 performances)


by Keith Waterhouse & Willis Hall

British (Northern) establishedplaywrights)

director : Franco Zeffirelli

LyricTheatre London Nov. 1977

(Plowright & Colin Blakely)

1979- Plowright & Frank Finlay)

also on Broadway 1980 lesssuccesful in US)

Text used: Filumena a play.

Eduardo de Filippo. English versionby Keith Waterhouse & Willis Hall . Samuel French 1978.

more recent in the 1990 s by women an actress a playwright
More recent: In the 1990’sby women: an actress; a playwright


Maria Tucci

(for the American



Italo-American (B. NY, relations in Florence)

(Title: Filumena: Marriage Italian Style)

Williamstown, 1996, New York 1997/98)


Timberlake Wertenbaker

(for the British Stage)

Feminist playwright.

Born Basque country, British, lived around the world, polyglot

1998/1999- London Piccadilly- dir. Sir Peter Hall, Judi Dench with Michael Pennington

plan to
Plan to:
  • compare a fewextractsfrom the fourversions-verybriefly – illustratingvariousaspectstogether(a smallselectionamongmanysignificantdifferences and important/favouriteexchangesfoundthroughout the play’s threeActs).
  • Then (on yourown) alsoglance at some of the criticalreviews

Domenico:Quann' aggio fatto sapéchi si' stata tu, e 'a copp' a qua' casa te venette a piglià,m'hann' 'a da' ragione afforza! E te distruggo, Filume', te distruggo!(difficulttoseesystematicpolariseddiffs.)


FILUMENA …e avev' 'a chiagnerepe' te? Era troppobello 'o mobile.(thatwouldhavebeen the last straw (il colmo) (you-the mobile- werenotworthwhile..)…... DOMENICOLassa sta 'o mobile. Un'anima in pena, senza pace, maie. Una donna che non piange, non mangia, non dorme. T'avesse visto maie 'e durmì. N'ànema dannata, chesto si…. (TRICKY METAPHORICAL EXPRESSION)


FILUMENA … E se nzallanisce appriesso a chella..DOMENICO{come colto in fallo reagisce, furente) A chella chi?... A chella chi? FILUMENA{niente affatto intimidita, con maggiore violenza di Domenico) Appriesso a chella schifosa!(ERRORS/ INSULTS)


FILUMENA: Cinquantaduie anne, e se permette 'e se mettere cuna figliola 'e vintiduie! Nun se ne mette scuorno! E mm' 'a mette dint' 'a casa, dicenno ca era l'infermiera... Pecche isso se credeva overo ca io stevo murenno


…vicin' 'o lietto mio s'abbracciavano e se vasavano! {Con irrefrenabile senso di nausea) Madonna... quanto me faie schifo! E se io stevo murenno overamente, tu chesto avisse fatto? Già, io murevo, e 'a tavola apparicchiata (la indica) pe' isso e chella morta allerta... (DIAL/COLL:‘woken dead’-nonentity-frivolous)


FILUMENA: Ma Filumena Marturano ha fatto correre essa a te! E currive senza ca te n'addunave... E ancora ‘e 'a correre, ancora ‘e 'a iettà 'o sangoa capi comme se campa e se prucede 'a galantomo! O miédeconun sapeva niente. Ce ha creduto pur‘ isso, e ce avev' 'a credere! Qualunque femmena, doppovintincinc'anne che ha passato vicino a te, se mette in agonia. T'aggio fatto 'a serva! {) 'A serva ll'aggio fatta pe'


FILUMENA: […]Avvoca','e ssapite chillivascie... (Marca la parola) Ibassi... A San Giuvanniello, a 'e Virgene, a Furcella, 'e Tribunale, 'o Pallunetto![…]Nire, affummecate..! addo 'a stagione nun se rispira p' 'o calore pecche 'a gente è assaie, e 'a vvierno 'o friddo fa sbattere 'e diente...Addo nun ce sta luce manco a mieziuonno... Io parlo napoletano, scusate... dove non c'è luce nemmeno a mezzogiorno.Chin' 'e ggente! Addo è meglio;'o friddo e' 'o calore...(WHAT TO DO WITH CULTURE-BOUND TITLES, NAMES, CODE-SWITICHING?)


RICCARDO: Quella poi, la vita, è tutta una combinazione. Io, per esempio, comme me trovo ‘0 negozio a Chiaia? Perché facevo l’amore con una camiciaia! DOMENICO: (cogliendo a vólo)He fatt' 'ammore con molte ragazze tu?


THE THREE SONS SING: «Munastero 'e Santa Chiara –tengo' o core scuro scuro -ma pecché pecché ogne sera -penzo a Napule comm'era…..No nun é overo…no nun ce crero…


(The priest’s arrived…)MICHELE: Mammà!... ..DOMENICO: {si alza dal tavolo e guarda tutti lungamente. Poi co me una decisione immediata)Lasciammo sta‘ 'e ccose comme stanno, e ognuno va p' 'a strada soia... (Ai ragazzi)Io vi devo parlare...(Tutti attendono sospesi).Sono un galantuomo e non mi sento d'ingannarvi. Stateme a senti... I TRE : Si, papa! DOMENICO (commosso guarda Filumena e decide ) Grazie. Quanto m'avite fatto piacere...


FILUMENA{felice)Dummi', sto chiagnenno... Quant'è bello a chiàgnere...DOMENICO{stringendola teneramente a sé)È niente... è niente. He cùrruto... he curruto... te si mmisa appaura... si' caduta... te si' alzata... te si' arranfecata... He pensato, e 'o ppenzà stanca... Mo nun he 'a correre cchiu, non he 'a penzà cchiù... Riposate!... 'E figlie so' ffiglie... E so' tutte eguale... Hai ragione, Filume', hai ragione tu!...

what have we seen so far
what have we seen, so far?
  • Carlo Ardito: free-ish (but less than W&H)- often colloquial British domestication- (a few errors)
  • Waterhouse &Hall : longer adaptation- free- much vulgarity added (thought to be more Italian? or because they are 1970’s men…?)- additions/intrusions / omissions- stilted bits- least respectful of Eduardo’s original (several errors)
  • Maria Tucci: shorter (adaptation?) often Lit. and referentially close, but with some omissions ( a few errors)
  • Timberlake Wertenbaker: often close (as lit. as possible)- mostly natural- most respectful of Eduardo’s original- attemps to respect most elements (tho’ adapts colloqualisims) (no real errors)
Now for a quick glance at some reviewswhere we see non-textual elements coming in and influencing evaluation
  • (found none of Carlo Ardito’s Radio or N. England theatrestagings)
  • MixedreviewsmainlyofWaterhouse & Hall/ Joan Plowright / Blakeley/ Finlay / Zeffirelli
  • of Maria Tucci/ James Naughton
  • ButalsoofWertenbaker/JudiDench/ Michael Pennington /Peter Hall
  • Oftenevaluating in oppositeways the sameperceivedcharacteristics (e.g. accent, tone, gesture)
  • And suggesting a distinctionbetween American /Britishcriticsforpreferencesforplainness or flamboyance, domesticflavour or Italianateness or lackofit, or theircombination… and some stereotypes.
  • Some, butnotmany, referencesto the actual‘translations’/ texts
conclusions might seem to discern general difference
Conclusions: Might seem to discern general difference
  • Earlier versions by men
  • Perhaps less respectful of original; freer adaptations?
  • More ‘target oriented’?
  • Though not necessarily (both) domesticating(interesting methodological/terminology implications)
  • Ardito more domesticating
  • Waterhouse & Hall more foreignising (free-er and also most ‘vulgar’…)
  • Later versions by women
  • Perhaps more generally respectful of original text
  • More ‘source oriented’?
  • Though not necessarily more ‘exotic’(interesting methodological/terminology implications)
  • Wertenbaker’s text is ‘plain’ not ‘exotic’
  • Tucci’s text is referentially close but adapted and condensed
and certainly the multimodal aspects of the productions are also very much part of the ‘feel’ of the new ‘versions’.
  • From the reviews we’ve had insights of how they were performed (espec. W&H/Plowright, and TW /Dench)
  • And how this is central to the evaluation of the play in general and even of the translation
    • Accent, gesture, stance, expressions, the set, the costumes
  • And with varying preferences for/perceptions of Italianateness (exotocism)
so finally
  • difficulty in neatly distinguishing the translation approaches, and the danger of simply/facilely equating source language orientation with exoticism (at least), and target language/audience orientation with domestication
  • Eduardo’s Filumena is ‘universal’ material, or simply has to be relegated to be a colourful, culturally ‘other’ experience.
translating poetry
Translating poetry

Read Bennett’s articleattached

  • Poetry is neither just words, nor just metre. It is a music of words, and is a way of seeing and interpreting the world and our experience of it, and of conveying to the listener a heightened awareness of it through an intense concentration of metaphor and words in which the natural flow of speech sounds is moulded to some kind of formal pattern. Such patterns can never be the same after the act of translation
  • Pattern, obviously, is governed by the rules of syntax and prosody that language has inherited from the historical and social pressures that shaped it.

Literal translations do not make a poem.

  • A poem is made up of:
  • Form (shape, musicality, lenght, graphic devices, etc.
  • Content (allusions, metaphors, word plays etc…)
  • Different levels of importance of the two dimensions…
a livella
A’ livella

Original text available at:

An English translation is available at:


You filthy pig! How dare you

  • Compare yourself to me?
  • My kinship is so noble and illustrious,
  • That it would put a royal prince to shame.
  • Poor little king get off your noble ship!
  • Why don’t you get it into that head of
  • Yours, that you’ve lost your marbles.
  • Don’t you know what death is? It’s the great leveller.