The Critical Performance of Translation in The Sonnets: Translating and Rewriting Shakespeare
The Sonnets: Translating and Rewriting Shakespeare, edited by Sharmila Cohen and Paul Legault, is a collection of “translations” of Shakespeare’s sonnets, where translation, as opposed to operating between languages, means a variety of English-to-English transformations and other experimental procedures. Each sonnet is translated by a contemporary poet based on a wide range of processes that take to its limits Walter Benjamin’s notion that “[t]he task of the translator consists in finding that intended effect upon the language into which he is translating which produces in it the echo of the original.” In Cohen and Legault’s Sonnets, this “echo of the original” is deformed, defaced, silenced, or amplified in a myriad of translation processes that, as the book’s introduction suggests, are conceptually in keeping with the piracy and theft that led to the initial unauthorized publication of Shakespeare’s sonnets in 1609, the cover of this collection being a fact-simile of that pirated edition. “[O]ur hope,” write the editors, “was that the contributors would approach the original texts from their multitude of vantage points, that they would board the ship, loot and pillage, break things down, and reconstruct it all in a fashion that would allow us to view multiple dimensions of the original work in a new light, as a new structure.” The editors continue, “If Shakespeare’s framework was the sonnet, then our contributors’ framework was Shakespeare.” This emphasis on reevaluating translation as a negotiation within a conceptual space of authorship rather than strict or accurate formal and semantic carry-over animates the project of this book. Including a wide-range of poets from disparate aesthetics and politics, this anthology is unique in its inclusion of an array of “new” or “conceptual” translation methods, including homophonic translation, erasure, collage, and a number of hybrid forms that challenge traditional notions of what a poem is, not to mention the reliability and purpose of the act of translation.
yo wut a caveman and an old british man from 1609 have in common? they both shakespeare’s