FROM HOMER TO SHAKESPEARE


AN INTERVIEW WITH

H. J. DE ROY VAN ZUYDEWIJN


Ton Hoenselaars and David Rijser(1)


Several years ago, H. J. de Roy van Zuydewijn made the headlines with his Dutch translation of the Iliad and the Odyssey. Among other things, this translation was described as "by far the best Dutch hexameter translation ever made of Homer" (De Morgen). In recent years, however, he has also devoted much attention to the work of Shakespeare. In 1986, his Enclave appeared, a volume of poetry comprising 74 Persian quatrains. In this verse, H. J. de Roy van Zuydewijn traces the spiritual development of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth with great sympathy, and displays a fine sense of their disturbing reality:
 

Die bang is voor het donker maakt de nacht
op wat hij niet kan horen juist verdacht.
Het is niet stil omdat de vijand weg is.
Het is zo stil omdat hij op je wacht.

Scared of the dark, in the middle of the night,
It's what we cannot hear that gives us fright.
It is not still because the foe is gone.
It's still because he waits just out of sight.

As a side product of Enclave, De Roy van Zuydewijn produced a translation of Macbeth. He has also translated Julius Caesar, Richard III, and Shakespeare's Sonnets since. The publication of the latter as De Sonnetten with De Arbeiderspers in 1997 seemed an appropriate occasion for Ton Hoenselaars and David Rijser to interview the man responsible for an impressive and growing list of Shakespeare translations.

You began your career as a translator of Homer. After the "Iliad" and "Odyssey," how did you come to translate Shakespeare?

For a proper understanding of what drives me as a translator, I should mention that I also write poetry, several volumes of which have already appeared. Personally, I do not really see the difference between translating poetry and writing poetry. In fact, my first attempt at a Shakespeare translation was directly related to the production of Enclave, my collection of quatrains inspired by Macbeth. As I was working on those quatrains, I translated the play. So that translation did not just come out of the blue. You could see this joint production as a movement along parallel tracks running in the same direction. You could say that I translate because I experience a kind of love for the source text.


As a translator, you have worked on Homer and on Shakespeare. Could you explain your preference for two canonical authors of such stature?

This may well be a matter of pride (in the biblical sense of that word), somewhere deep down in my unconscious. People have always been building Towers of Babel or climbing Himalayas. Homer and Shakespeare represent the summits of world literature, and it is an enormous challenge to compete with two such giants. Also, of course, no fully satisfactory Dutch verse translation of Homer had ever been produced, so there was sufficient reason to try. The same applies to Shakespeare. There will never be a translation that everyone acknowledges as superior. When I started work on the Sonnets, the complete cycle had already been translated into Dutch seven times. That may seem a great deal, but not when you consider that there have been no fewer than twenty-nine attempts in French. Given that figure, I thought I might make a bid for the eighth Dutch translation.


What are your objectives when you work on a translation? What occupies you most? Do you concentrate on the translation's auditory qualities, on the way it has to sound, or do you think of a translation as a text primarily to be read?

Hearing and reading are not mutually exclusive. The present-day poetry reader has become alienated from the ancient oral tradition, but in the case of a well-written text the reader nearly automatically reads the sound into his experience. Sound is the ultimate standard. If a poem does not sound well, it cannot possibly be good poetry. Also as a poet for the stage, Shakespeare derives his poetic surplus from the unity of sound and rhythm that gives his verse its inimitable musical timbre. "There is a tide in the affairs of men," or "And enterprises of great pith and moment," or "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" to mention just a few of the literally thousands of purple patches in Shakespeare.

The aim of translating must be not only to convey the meaning of a particular text, but also its rhythm, sound, and imagery. That is a Herculean labour, and you never really pull it off. One continues to approach an ideal, but one never reaches it. The best translation, therefore, is the version of the text that gets closest to the lyrical and dramatic poetry of Shakespeare. That's the kind of translation I always search for.

 

What is your experience with Shakespeare's iambic verse?

Translating Shakespeare's iambs into Dutch is as difficult as it is to translate Homer's dactylic hexameter: the original poet creates a text and chooses the words which best fit the metre; when a particular word does not fit the metre, he chooses another. The translator does not have that freedom. Also, in translating the iambic pentameter from English into Dutch, another problem arises. As everyone knows, the English language has more monosyllabic words than Dutch. Just look at all those English participles: bent, caught, bound, drawn, left and so on, and consider that in Dutch nearly every one of these will occupy three syllables in the same pentameter space. Moreover, English has a host of words that were originally bi-syllabic, but which are now pronounced as a single syllable. In this respect English is much more streamlined than Dutch.

The Dutch Shakespeare translator, therefore, is often confronted with problems of space. Each time new and more or less adequate solutions need to be found. Here and there you may leave a word untranslated. No translator likes that option, but sometimes there is no other way. Fortunately, every once in a while you can smuggle in the extra line or iamb. Also Shakespeare once in a while sneaks in the extra metrical foot. But when you do this as a translator, it must always be an exception, a last resort. You can also try to convey what Shakespeare says in a totally different way. Sometimes you succeed quite well, but there are limitations. In the final analysis, it is the Shakespeare text that should determine the Dutch rendering, not the Dutch translation the Shakespeare original. The best solution is always offered by our own target language itself, a solution that descends like an ointment on the translator's wounded soul. Take this line from King Lear: "The bow is bent and drawn, make for the shaft." The poet A. Roland Holst translated it as: "Getrokken is de boog, vlucht voor de schicht." So he chose to omit one word ("bent"). There is no great loss here in terms of meaning, since a bow cannot be drawn without bending it. Nevertheless, this line in translation loses a great deal of rhythmic and dramatic power; it no longer conveys Lear's anger. One obtains a rhythmically stronger line by replacing the participles by adjectives: "De boog staat strak en scherp, vlucht voor de pijl." This line has, as in English, five stresses which with their rapid succession convey precisely the rhythmic shortbreathedness that is characteristic of sudden fury.

Translating the Sonnets, though, is an even more painstaking exercise than translating the plays. A sonnet does not brook an extra line or an extra iamb even. In formal terms, the end rhyme of the sonnet imposes even greater limitations than the blank verse of the plays, because the rhyme always has to be in the same place, and because the usable rhyme words are precious few in number. Also the lavish imagery has to be preserved, just like the alliteration, if at all possible. The objective must be to turn each sonnet into a poem worthy of that name. The translator must, therefore, have all his irons in the fire and leave no poetic device unexplored to reach that goal. What the Dutch language cannot offer him in one line, it may provide in another. Let me give you an example. Take the third quatrain of sonnet 52:

So is the time that keeps you as my chest,
Or as the wardrobe which the robe doth hide,
To make some special instant special blest,
By new unfolding his imprisoned pride.

De Roy van Zuydewijn:

Zo is de tijd mijn kluis, die jou behoudt,
een kast waar 't pronkkleed weggehangen is
voor het supreem moment dat mij ontvouwt
het trots trésor van die gevangenis.

Keeping in mind the fact that the last line in English runs "By new unfolding his imprisoned pride," it may be of interest to know that in an earlier version I had translated this line as "het trots kleinood van die gevangenis." It is clear that the alliteration in "imprisoned pride" is not unimportant to the force of this line, but it was sorely lacking in my first translation. Even though it does not occur in the same place in the line, the alliteration of "het trots trésor" largely makes up for this, although at a price, since a Dutch word had to be replaced by one of French origin. Fortunately, I realized that the word "imprisoned" in the original text also had a French ring, in the allusion to prison. Seeing that, I had no more qualms.

This is a good example of the process of weighing pros and cons that is part and parcel of translating verse. At every turn you are aware that it is not just this or that word which needs to be considered, but at the same time the entire line of verse to which it belongs, the entire quatrain, the entire sonnet. For that reason, a sonnet translation must be considered in its entirety, although one could argue a case for scrutiny and evaluation on the quatrain level.

Not all reviewers have an eye for considerations like these. In the Belgian journal Café des arts I found a review of my sonnets by Frank Albers. In it, he objected to my rendering of the first line of sonnet 66: "Smekend om doodrust, moe van al mijn leed" ("Tired with all these, for restful death I cry"). He objected because I had inverted the order of the line's two main semantic centres. Since Peter Verstegen did not do so for this line ("Moe van al dit, roep 'k om de rust des doods"), Albers concluded that Peter Verstegen's translation was better. But it is downright unfair to judge the translation of lines of verse in total isolation; certainly in a sonnet at least the entire quatrain to which the line belongs needs to be included in the interpretation and evaluation. The reason for the inversion I have applied here lies in the fourth line, where "gekleed" yields a fitting rhyme word in context with "leed" from the opening line. As a translator you weigh the costs and the benefits: inversion may be an inconvenient device, but the advantage may well be that you end up with a rhyme word that is both pleasing to the ear and fits the idea that needs to be expressed.


Inversion is, of course, a rather frequent device in your translation.

Yes, but it is rather common practice with other translators too. Albers is, of course, conveniently silent about the fact that Peter Verstegen, too, frequently takes the liberty of inverting half lines, or even entire lines, in his translation. I have found instances of line inversion in quite a number of Peter Verstegen's sonnets: 19, 21, 34, 35, 41, 46, 50, 62, 78, 82, 90, 104, 107, 112, 115, 118, 119, 123, and 132. So Albers' review not only leaves much to be desired on methodological grounds; it also adopts a double standard.

Occasionally inverting a line or part of it is, to my mind, a very responsible practice for a translator, if this yields a better poetic result than would have been achieved without it. In nearly all instances this involves lines that together form a syntactic pair. In one instance I have opted for a more drastic solution; in sonnet 66, I moved line 5 ("And gilded honour shamefully misplaced") down to line 10. Syntactically speaking, this line is independent. It is a long catalogue, where the sequence of the items listed seems to have been determined by the demands of rhyme rather than compelled by a clear line of thought. By moving the line down, everything else in the translation of that sonnet as I saw it seemed to fall into place. So I gratefully exploited that sudden opportunity.

 

What is your opinion of the notes to the Verstegen edition?

As a translator of the Sonnets, there are two things you can do. You either provide an elaborate set of notes in which you analyse nearly every line of every sonnet, or you present a plain translation without any comments. There is little sense in leaving things half done. There were various reasons why I decided against the use of notes. In the first place, critical footnoting or endnoting involves an enormous amount of work that really lies beyond the discipline of the translator. It should therefore come as little of a surprise that few if any Dutch translators of the Sonnets have felt called upon to supplement their Dutch rendering of the Shakespeare text with any notes. Exceptions to this practice are Jan Jonk (who gives a very brief summary of each sonnet, which is of little use to the reader), and Peter Verstegen, who, in addition to a prose paraphrase of each sonnet, has something to say about every sonnet, be it a single comment, a more elaborate explanation, or even a rambling commentary.

My second reason for eschewing notes was the pedestrian fact that it would have made the ultimate volume bigger and more expensive. Neither the publisher nor I considered this to be a wise proceeding. This is also the reason why in the introduction to the volume I have limited myself to providing only the information which is strictly necessary for an understanding of the sonnets, and the interconnections between them.

 

 What do you think of Peter Verstegen's translation?

It is impossible to judge his translation of the Shakespeare Sonnets without each time comparing his results to my own rendering of them. Comparison is inevitable, and the yardstick that I adopt automatically derives from my own translation. My verdict, therefore, can never be an objective one. I find, therefore, that I ought to leave the verdict to other critics, hoping, of course, that they will be less prejudiced than Albers.

Dolf Verspoor once compared the art of translating to conducting a score. Along these lines, one could compare different translations of the same source text with performances of the same symphony each time by different conductors with different orchestras. Inevitably, with each performance, the orchestra will have a different sound quality, and the interpretation of the score will differ, the tempi, the phrasing.

Verspoor's is a fascinating comparison, but it fails on one essential point. While translating, we may all be using the same score, but sadly for the translator, the target language is not an orchestra made up of well-trained professional musicians selected on the basis of their technique and musical skills. The poet's orchestra is deadly silence. If he brings it to life, it turns out to consist of a number of sounds, defined by conventions, varied, and organized into sentences. The poet chooses from this chaos of opportunities, as does the translator, in accordance with a pattern that he or she has developed in the course of a lifetime. It need come as little of a surprise, therefore, that translations of the same source text, especially in the case of poetry, differ so much more from one another than the various performances of the same piece of music. Every poet and every translator of poetry is simultaneously both conductor and orchestra.

In this connection I have, in another interview, pointed out that each translation of poetry (to limit myself to that genre), however good or bad it may be, is always totally unique and primarily true to itself alone. Its use of language is as unmistakable as someone's fingerprints, voice, or DNA structure. Talent, great or small, may develop in the course of someone's life, but it is still genetically determined. I think that talent may well be of greater importance than any abstract view of translation, which, more often than not, will represent a form of rationalization determined by the direction into which a particular talent has developed.

 

 Would you agree that the Verstegen version of the "Sonnets" is open to the world, whereas your cycle is a universe in its own right, a closed world?

I only agree up to a point, but let me explain. Speaking of a universe in its own right, or a closed world, one should keep in mind that many of Shakespeare's sonnets in the original are by no means easy to interpret. And that is putting it mildly. Just go to the library and look at the shelf upon shelf of books on the meaning of the Sonnets alone! Of course, one can choose, like Van Elden in his otherwise valuable translation, to aim at a univocal reading devoid of ambiguity or vagueness. The disadvantage, however, is that it yields a translation with a single dimension, a translation which hence fails to capture accurately the poetic echo of the original.

When translating, the important thing is, as much as possible, to preserve and convey that echo function. I agree that it should be one of the translator's ambitions to clarify the original verse where this is somewhat obscure or enigmatic, but he should not continue to polish things up until there is no tissue left. Verstegen, too, resisted the temptation to clean or clear things up as drastically as Van Elden.

It is my conviction, therefore, that as a translator one should not tamper too much with the hermetic quality of the Shakespeare sonnets, turning them into precise and unambiguous utterances. For the attraction of the sonnets resides in the multiple layers of meaning they contain. It is difficult to provide any hard and fast rules about how far one should go. But, to be quite honest, I have on the whole been worried more about oversimplifying matters than about not simplifying enough. That decision is not only determined by the translator's individual linguistic and poetic range, but also by the possibilities his own language can offer him. Sometimes the choice involves a degree of explanation or clarification. At other times, he may find solutions of a more closed character.


Some degree of interpretation is, of course, inevitable since Shakespeare's metaphor is such a complex and sometimes also confusing matter. Shakespeare likes to use a word that is just not the right one, or the expected one, and that tends to upset commentators. How do you handle such passages? How hot an iron do you apply to the creases?

As a translator you tend to produce a logical whole. This is not because you want to improve Shakespeare, but because in your own use of language you nearly automatically pursue a degree of logic. To a certain level, I would, if the result were acceptable, be in favour of leaving Shakespeare's idiosyncrasies intact, of not brushing up the metaphors more than you already do unconsciously anyway. Anatomically speaking, the horse of Marcus Aurelius is far off the mark, but it is nevertheless a magnificent horse.


But here the poet in you is beginning to speak.

I certainly hope so, because I am deeply convinced that poetry can only be translated by a poet, and not by translators who seem to think that poetry automatically results from having one pentameter line rhyme with the next. Let me explain what I mean with an example. In sonnet 2 (lines 5-8), we read the following lines: 

Then being asked where all thy beauty lies,
Where all the treasure of thy lusty days,
To say within thine own deep-sunken eyes
Were an all-eating shame and thriftless praise.

This quatrain was translated by L. A. J. Burgersdijk and by Peter Verstegen as follows:

Burgersdijk:

Dan vraagt men, waar uw schoon is heengetogen,
Waar heel de schat is van uw lentetijd;
En zegt gij: "In deez' diepgezonken oogen"
't Ware eeuw'ge schande, een roem, die niet gedijt.

Verstegen:

Vraagt men waarheen je schoonheid is vervlogen
En waar de winst is van je wilde tijd,
En zeg jij: in je diep verzonken ogen
't Zou loze lof zijn die ten hemel schreit.

My own translation runs:

Dan op de vraag, waarop je schoon kan bogen
en waar de schat is van je jonge tijd,
is 't antwoord: "In mijn weggezonken ogen"
zo schrale lof als schrokkig zelfverwijt.

What concerns me here is the translation of Shakespeare's cryptic last line, "Were an all-eating shame and thriftless praise." As a translator you find yourself staring at it for hours, thinking through all the suggestions and implications of that line. My translation bases itself on the oppositions: "shame"-"praise" and "eating"-"thriftless," and relies on the alliteration in "schrale"-"schrokkig" to reinforce this contrastive effect. Without meaning to challenge the merits of the other translations, I do feel that my own rendering of the line is closest to the Shakespearean original. As in the case of Shakespeare's own line, you can only come to understand it by thinking about it. I do not consider that to be a disadvantage. Poetry is not for weak stomachs. My translation of this line provides an explicit answer to the question why I seem uninterested in simplifying and massaging away so much of the original poem until little else remains but the bare bones.

The frustrating thing about translating Shakespeare, it would seem, is that only one line out of ten can really become perfect.

That seems rather a pessimistic way of seeing things. If that were really true, I would immediately forsake my poetic ambitions. There is not a single poem that solely consists of highlights, not even the sonnets of Shakespeare. And, in turn, the highlights exist by virtue of what came before and what might follow. One should not think of a poem as a mere succession of lines, but as an organic whole in which everything hangs together. Only here and there will you find those pearls that the beachcomber of our memory picks up and takes home.

The quality of a translation depends on the same kind of coherence and the presence of the same kind of "icons." A good example of this is sonnet 64, one of the sonnets that contends for the prize of the best of the cycle. Lines 5-8 run as follows:

When I have seen the hungry ocean gain
Advantage on the kingdom of the shore,
And the firm soil win of the wat'ry main,
Increasing store with loss and loss with store;

In my translation, the quatrain reads as follows:

wanneer ik zie hoe hongerig de zee,
ten koste van het rijk der kust, toetast
en land het wint van waterkracht -- waarmee
winst uit verlies, verlies uit winst aanwast.

Before anything else, it is the translator's task to preserve the symmetrical rhetoric of the last line, so typical of the period when Shakespeare must have written it. The translation of this quatrain is reasonably successful, and achieves a level of distinction that lies considerably higher than the 10% rate to which you refer. Let us see what Verstegen did with the line:

Als ik de diepzee zie die watertandt
Naar 't kustrijk en zich met die prijs vermeert,
Of 't zilte nat verjaagd door vasteland,
Want winst groeit uit verlies en omgekeerd.

This is not Verstegen's most felicitous of stanzas. The image of the deep sea whose mouth waters is very un-Shakespearean, apart from the fact that the notion of having your mouth water is not a good translation of "hungry" (you can be hungry without having your mouth water, or your mouth may water without you feeling hungry). But especially the last line falls far short of the original. Verstegen should not have satisfied himself with such a paraphrase of the original (which also recalls his Dutch rendering of line four in sonnet 28: "Maar dag en nacht bezwaart en omgekeerd"). Another example is the first quatrain of sonnet 91:

Some glory in their birth, some in their skill,
Some in their wealth, some in their body's force,
Some in their garments, though new-fangled ill,
Some in their hawks and hounds, some in their horse.

Burgersdijk:

Deez' stoft op zijn geboort', die op zijn geld,
Deze op zijn kunst, die op zijn lichaamskracht,
Deze op zijn kleed'ren, schoon het snit hem knelt,
Die op zijn hond, of paard, of valkenjacht.

Verstegen:

Men gaat op afkomst of op kennis prat,
Op spierkracht of op geld dat men vergaart,
Op kleding, 't laatste snufje voor een fat,
Op valken, of zijn jachthond of zijn paard.

De Roy van Zuydewijn:

Die gaat op afkomst, die op kunde prat,
die op zijn kracht, die op zijn geld en grond,
die op zijn kleed, al zit het hem niet glad,
die op zijn hengst, zijn havik, of zijn hond.

Burgersdijk was to have a great following by translating "hawks" as "valkenjacht" (falconry) when he set out to hunt with a falcon. Apparently he was unaware of the fact that hunting with the hawk was and still is common practice in England. So there was no reason not to render "hawk" as "havik." As a result, none of his followers took the opportunity to preserve the rather compelling alliteration of "hawks," "hounds," and "horse."

 

You have also translated a number of Shakespeare plays.

As I said earlier, I translated Macbeth in 1985, and, some ten years later, also Julius Caesar. The reason why I have not yet been able to find a publisher is mainly because Gerrit Komrij is currently engaged in a translation of the complete plays for the publisher Bert Bakker. Although, of course, he cannot help it, the work of Shakespeare is really being monopolized by a single translator. This a most undesirable situation.

But this is not my only frustration when it comes to translating the plays into Dutch. At least as upsetting is the fact that more and more directors are beginning to produce their own Dutch Shakespeare text for their stage productions. Several years ago, for example, Eric Vos translated and adapted Antony and Cleopatra. He did away with the iambic pentameter and, instead, opted for a kind of free rhythmic construct with lines of uneven length that fail to reflect any artistic necessity whatsoever. The result is a feeble text that will not come to life. Antony and Cleopatra is notoriously difficult to put on; but without the original rhythmic structures to carry the production, you are doomed to fail from the outset, as the Eric Vos example made only too apparent. Not a single actor felt happy with the texts, not even a thoroughbred like Eric Schneider, whose Uncle Wanja with Eric Vos' Appel Theater was an unforgettable theatre experience.

Having said this, I fully realize that Eric Vos was at least courageous enough to enter into a discussion about the new text by publishing it in the programme. When I had translated Julius Caesar, I phoned the Nationaal Toneel in The Hague asking them if I could please have a copy of the translation they had used for their recent production of the play. When I had finally been put through to the man who apparently was in charge of these matters, I was told in a tone almost as if I had made an indecent proposal, that no textbook of the production was available.

I think this should not be allowed. To begin with, it is wrong where royalties are concerned. Without a printed text, who can check whether or not the "translator" has been shopping around in the work of his Dutch colleagues? Even worse is the artistic intangibility of such an obscure text. What kind of Shakespeare was it that the audience got to see and hear? What has been left out? What has been added? How well did the production meet the multiple challenge of the text produced for it? Those questions must remain unanswered, to us and to posterity.

 

Do you consider this to be a tendency in the modern theatre? Are you certain that the text is treated too lightly?

I am afraid so. In the world of music, old instruments are being copied to make sure that the original, authentic sound may be reproduced. In the world of the theatre, however, the original text is not always treated with such respect for authenticity, and is increasingly subjected to the ideas of the director, although I do not mean to generalize here. I do not adhere to the "Shakespeare as Shakespeare" philosophy that annoys Eric Vos so much. But the other extreme is far worse: shredding the Shakespeare text, abandoning its metrical qualities, and reducing the plays to the Shakespeare-made-easy level. Sometimes I have the feeling that present-day theatre makers in the Netherlands have a rather low opinion about their audience and are over-anxious that the text might not be understood. And why? After all, good translations like those by Willie Courteaux, Bert Voeten, or Gerrit Komrij into modern Dutch are, thanks to the elucidation that inevitably accompanies the process of translation, many times more intelligible than the Elizabethan English that modern English audiences get.

The original Shakespeare text is not a sacred cow, but it should always, with its iambic pentameter, form the basis of a translation. The Shakespeare text may be freely adapted, but not thrown overboard. Occasionally in his plays, Shakespeare gives us a hint. The great speech of Brutus in Julius Caesar is in prose. It is a well-argued, civilized speech. The hearers accept his views, but they are not touched by him. Antony, in his speech, has iambic pentameter, and it is this stirring rhythmic quality which enables the demagogue to drive the Roman audience out of their senses. This effect cannot be achieved in prose, or in a metrical derivate that is indistinguishable from prose. If you have seen and heard Marlon Brando deliver the speech, you will know what I mean.

 

When you translate for the stage, speech is the main criterion.

The first requirement of a theatre translation is that it speaks or mouths well. But in turn a translator may expect that the actors can reasonably meet the demands of rhythm and diction. I fear that the present-day actor finds it harder to speak verse than his predecessors. When I speak of the past, I am, of course, not referring to the declamatory style so fashionable before the Second World War.


Given those conditions, where do you find the confidence to work on a translation for the stage?

There are always productions that confirm one's belief that Shakespeare's stage poetry can still be brought to life. Gerardjan Rijnders' Richard de Derde went a long way in that direction. One of the high points of that production was the dialogue between Richard and Elizabeth in the fourth act. The scene had great intensity, and was marvellously acted by Pierre Bokma and Marjon Brandsma. I remember the absolute silence in the auditorium. You could hear a pin drop. Such quiet is an obvious signal that something special is going on. If you are fidgeting about in your seat, though, there is something wrong. Your bum tells you.

This production has strengthened my conviction that Shakespeare possesses a dramatic force that may still inspire our actors of today to great achievements. It is often much less important whether Hamlet should be done in tails, like Verkade did, or in jeans, than it is to represent the language on stage. It is that text alone which connects the actors and the audience with Shakespeare. Shakespeare's language is the umbilical cord that establishes our continuing bond with the source, Elizabethan drama. If we were to give up the poetry and the rhythm, we would lose touch with the source that must feed us. And because we have to work with a translation, everything depends on that translation. In order to play Shakespeare on his own level, it is of importance to produce a text which best approximates the original in terms of diction and rhythm.

 

Are you planning to translate any more of Shakespeare's plays?

I am currently finishing Richard III, a fascinating play that has never been out of the repertory. It is an early play, and it may not have the maturity of the other tragedies; yet, it represented a breakthrough in Shakespeare's career as a playwright, somewhat like Mozart's ninth piano concerto, where suddenly the true genius fully manifests himself. At first, my translation would not get off the ground, but it is now fast nearing completion. I am not certain if I shall continue to translate any more Shakespeare plays. If Komrij were to abandon his translation project, surely I would be delighted to produce several plays to guarantee its completion.


[Translated from the Dutch by Ton Hoenselaars]

 

1. We are grateful to Jeroen Bollaart for his faithful transcription of the tape recordings of the original interview. Part of the original Dutch interview also appeared as "Van Homerus naar Shakespeare: Het vertaaloeuvre van H. J. de Roy van Zuydewijn," in Filter: Tijdschrift voor vertalen & vertaalwetenschap 5:2 (1998), 36-44.

 

 

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