Is Hamlet untranslatable? : renegotiating the boundaries of translatability in twentieth century German Hamlets
This thesis will focus on twentieth-century German translations and adaptations of Shakespeare's Hamlet. Some of the pre-requisites of a work's translatability are that it must exist in a stable text, its meaning should be accessible to interpretation, and it should provide a unitary comment that can be re-constructed in a second language and culture. I do not believe that Hamlet satisfies any of these pre-requisites. There is no transcendent text, it seems to resist interpretation, and the lack of a unitary comment problematises the articulation of a response to the play that can be re-coded in the target text. Translators seek to stabilise and interpret, whereas Hamlet is semantically and formally in continuous motion and resists attempts at closure. The demands of translation and the nature of Hamlet seem to be in direct conflict, and I begin my investigation with a hypothesis that Hamlet is 'untranslatable'. I have conducted a series of interviews with German translators of Hamlet, and I have used these discussions to construct a dialogue in this thesis. In Part 1 of the study I will focus on those translators of the play that have agreed that Hamlet is a flawed work, which must be repaired and improved before it can be translated. This dialogue explores the assumptions about Shakespeare's 'artistic failure' and how changes to the text are thought to facilitate its translatability. There will be an investigation of how translators and editors have continually rewritten Hamlet based on notions of 'correct' text. I will examine the validity of concepts such as the 'originar work and 'fidelity' to originals, as the premise on which translation is based, and I will question whether the work of these translators is phenomenologically flawed. In Part 2 of this thesis I will proceed to consider whether Hamlet has been rejected as untranslatable because of metaphysical qualities that foreground our notions of the play. It seems to be the case that translators only experience the problem of untranslatability, or of Hamlet as a flawed work, when certain demands are made on the transcendent text in which Hamlet is believed to exist. The translators and adapters, whose work is the object of my analysis in the second part of this study; have been able to circumscribe the issue of translatability by changing the way they have understood the ontology of Hamlet. By deconstructing notions of the unitary work or the transcendent text, and conceiving of Hamlet as a series of enactments or a methodological field, it becomes possible to trahslatethe material across the boundaries of language and culture. I will thus develop the argument that by moving away from traditional notions of a 'work' to understand Hamlet as a broader cultural text, we can re-think the interpretive possibilities of the play and push back the boundaries of what has been traditionally possible through the limited practice of translation. I will be working towards the conclusion that translation theorists should re-think their conceptions of the 'source text' and the function of translation, working from a field of cultural material, rather than attempting to translate a non-existent transcendent text. The work of translators and adapters examined in the second part of my study presents a more productive approach to translation, and a more realistic II understanding of the ontology of literary works, compared with the attempts of other translators, who continue in their search for the play's lost echt. My research methodology, which involved the construction of a dialogue between translators, is also an attempt to promote a method of analysing and evaluating translations that includes the translator. Analyses of translations too often treat the translation as if it had been written in a social, political, linguistic and cultural vacuum. In fact, there are many factors that decide how a text is going to be translated even before the translator reaches his text. There have been many forces that have shaped and conditioned the way Hamlet has been translated and appropriated in German, ranging from large-scale intervention from political regimes like the Nazi Party and the Socialist State in East Germany, to small-scale domestic quarrels with a spouse. My thesis combines textual analysis and detailed discussions with translators, in order to develop a fuller understanding of the pragmatics of translation, and the need for a new interpretative methodology.