Shakespeare in translation

Shakespeare in translation

?Sonnet 130 Sonnet 130 is one of Shakespeare’s most famous sonnets, if not the most famous one. It actually makes fun of the Petrachan conventions of love poetry, that is to say the praises of beauty and perfection and the use of a huge variety of metaphors, based largely on natural beauties. The poet satires the tradition of comparing one’s beloved to all kinds of cliches and actually he subverts and reverses the conventions by describing not a perfect, but a rather imperfect lover. The speaker seems to take the typical Petrarchan metaphors at face value and somehow decides to tell the truth.

In the three quatrains there is an expanding and developing argumentation in which a rather negative image of the lover is depicted. In the final couplet the speaker finally shows his full intent by pointing out that real love does not need these conceits and that one does not need to be perfect in order to be beautiful. To be analysed are two translations of this sonnet, one by Friedrich Bodenstedt from 1862 and the second by Karl Lachmann from 1820, both of which show the complexity of this sonnet both in terms of language and structure.

The differences between

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the original and the translation by Friedrich Bodenstedt become obvious already in the first quatrain. In Shakespeare’s version there is the alliteration “my Mistress” that occurs in lines 1 and 12 and that frames the three quatrains. This frame is lost in Bodenstedt’s translation. Another formal difference between Shakespeare’s original and Bodenstedt’s translation is that in the first quatrain Shakespeare uses one line for each comparison and establishes pairs of comparison in the following two quatrains, presenting the Petrachan ideal in the first half or line and reality in the second.

In Bodenstedt’s version there is no such comparison, but rather the impression of the judgement by outsiders. This impression is reinforced by the change of the speaking situation in Bodenstedt’s translation. Shakespeare is talking about his lover and not to his lover, that is to say that he is actually addressing the reader and using the sonnet form in order to criticize in a rather artificial way a certain poetic ideal. With Bodentstedt we rather have the impression of a dialogue, which has a strong impact on the sonnet as it actually changes the content as the rejection of the Petrachan ideal is lost.

As already mentioned there are pairs of comparison in the second and the third quatrain, and in Shakespeare linked them by stylistic devices. Lines 5 and 6 are linked via the play with “seene Roses” and “Roses see”, and lines 7 and 8 are linked syntactically via adverbial additions, namely “in some perfumes” and “in the breath”, both of which refer to “delight” at the end of line 7. In Bodenstedt’s version there is no such stylistic device. The only link he establishes is the Enjambement between lines 7 and 8.

In the final couplet Shakespeare draws the logical conclusion of the argumentation of the quatrains, namely that love has nothing to do with perfection. Bodenstedt comes up with a rather different conclusion, namely that of reconforting the lover for being imperfect, which is consistent for his translation, but differs enormously form the original. Last but not least it is important to point out the linguistic differences between the original and the translation. Shakespeare tends to keep his sonnets absolutely simple, whereas Bodenstedt tends to use poetic terms that seem a bit unreal and forced.

To sum it up, Bodenstedt was not really interested in an exact translation, he ignored not only the sense underlying the sonnet, but also the artistic structure and the linguistic devices employed that make up the finesse of the sonnet. So, Bodenstedt could be described as a typical interpreting translator, who simplifies and smoothens. The translation by Karl Lachmann is closer to the original than that of Bodenstedt, but there are still some difficulties that go with it.

Karl Lachmann actually tries to stay as close as possible to the original with the aim of a word-by-word translation. This becomes obvious from the beginning onwards, as Lachmann uses weak rhymes just like Shakespeare does. But it is also the problems that come up right at the beginning. The alliteration “my Mistress” that frames the argumentation in the quatrains is translated literally, but the sound effect is lost, there are more syllables and Lachmann replaces the article by a possessive pronoun.

So, although the position at the beginning of line 1 and at the end of line 12 is kept, but the framing effect is affected as there are two different forms in the Lachmann translation, namely “Der Herrin” and “Die Herrin”, a difference that might be due to the fact that case, number and gender cannot be neglected in German. In the first quatrain of the original there is a parallel structure in the lines 3 and 4, that is established by the word “red” at the end of the lines. Lachmann actually changes this by adding “glaubt” at the end of line ?

But Lachmann’s major problem in this quatrain is the metaphorical level, especially in line 4. At Shakespeare’s time “Golddraht” was considered an ideal of blond locks and Lachmann got this allusion completely wrong by translating “wires” with “Seide”. He further changes the meaningn by adding “black”, as black silk is just as precious as other colours, but it is a sign of grieve. Furthermore Lachmann enhances the style by using terms like “hegen” ore “Haupt”, which is a clear example of the idealising tendency Shakespeare criticizes.

In the second quatrain Lachmann tries to stick to the original syntactic construction as consistently as possible, but again he does not translate all the details, like for example that lines 5 and 6 are linked not only by the word “but” but also by the fact that the word “roses” can be found at the same position in the two lines. Lachmann only establishes a subordinate clause link. And again Lachmann has problems gettingn the metaphors right.

The comparison of the lover to “roses damasked” is misunderstood by Lachmann, who talks about roses speckled red and white, instead of pink roses. And “Wohlgeruch” and “Dufte” are actually synonyms. In the third quatrain he has a problem with linking the lines 9 and 10 and uses Enjambement instead of Shakespeare’s lines style. Music is reduced to the human voice, which establishes a clear link to the voice of the lover. But it is in this quatrain that the best translated line of the sonnet can be found, namely line 12.

It is very close to the original in terms of language and content and especially the “ruhrt die Erd” is exactly what is described by “treads on the ground”, namely the contrast between the floating of a goddess and the rooted walk of the lover. Whereas Shakespeare offers a rather direct and hard comparison in the three quatrains, Lachmann clearly weakens the argumentation. In the final couplet two extremes can be observed. Line 13 is very close to the original, whereas line 14 differs extremely.

Shakepeare’s conclusion, namely that the ideal is nothing to look for, is not at all conveyed in Lachmann’s version. Althoug Lachmann comes up with an amazing unity of content and form, with three quatrains with alternating rhyme, a final rhymed couplet and an appropriate division on the content level, he has to change parts of the content and structure, which is rather a-typical for Lachmann. So we see that Shakespeare’s sonnet 130 is complicated, and rather complex in its structure and this actually causes problems when a translation of it is tempted.