It has been announced that The Royal Shakespeare Company is to invest a hefty £1.5 million to translate much of Shakespeare’s work into Mandarin. With the amount of effort and money being put into the project, it begs to be asked whether this is a good idea. Is this going to be a (colossal) waste of money, or an inspired idea which will spread culture to new audiences?
An exciting way to share
It’s actually very easy to argue that this as a good thing. There can be no doubt that a major part of culture is the exciting prospects that arise when we’re able to share it. Experiencing and understanding a different facet of culture is stimulating and interesting, and above all else it broadens the mind. It can also be considered a fact that Shakespeare is a revered and important part of British culture. Studied around the world, his works, whether you’re a fan or not, have already reached a massive audience.
Translating Shakespeare would open it up to another audience of Mandarin speakers. It would allow a greater sharing of one the biggest cultural icons Britain can boast of, meaning that his masterpieces can be enjoyed by even more people. Living in a world which is becoming more and more interconnected through technology, language ought not be a barrier to sharing something as brilliant (at least in my opinion), as Shakespeare. It would be a tragedy to imagine that a Mandarin speaker would not be able to see a performance of Shakespeare that they understood, simply because of the barrier of language. As a world language with almost a billion native speakers, this seems absurd.
To imagine the equivalent for English speakers would be a travesty- where would we be, for example, without being able to read Haruki Murakami’s work? It is unbelievably popular with critics and the public, to imagine not being able to read it due to a lack of translation seems impossible to believe.
In my opinion, sharing great literature should be a cultural priority.
Lost in translation?
The main problem with a translated version, however, is the issue of whether it can really hold a candle to the original. Are certain aspects of the prose invariably lost because some words don’t have a counterpart in another language with the same meaning?
It is an unfortunate truth that this will almost certainly be the case. There will be words that cannot be directly translated because there simply isn’t a word with the exactly the same meaning in the original language of the work.
Despite this inevitable change, however, the essence of the work will be the same. The emotions conveyed when the work is performed are not translatable into any words- it is the feeling that matters. Therefore, as long as those emotions are evoked, the actual words are not quite so important. Studies have shown that actually very little of what is actually being said has a direct impact on the audience; what’s more important is the tone and body language of the performance.
Of course, this isn’t completely accurate in this context because the beauty of the actual language and words is massively significant to literature. However, when being performed, one hopes that what you feel will be the same whether the play was performed in Mandarin or in English.
As well as this, the themes prevalent in much of Shakespeare’s works are so universal that it seems impossible that translation can change how relatable his literature is. Who cannot understand the pain of lost love as examined in Romeo and Juliet? Or, perhaps, the tragedy and grief in Hamlet, or the jealousy in Othello? Indeed, as Artistic Director Gregory Doran puts it: “China has a rich dramatic heritage that mirrors the epic scale, complexity and universality of Shakespeare’s work…”
With the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death coming up in 2016, this is a brilliant and timely project. Through sharing the Bard’s work we are celebrating his literature as we ought to: by allowing as many people as possible the chance to appreciate it in their own language.