Richard III – Loyaulté me lie # 08

Translating Richard III (1/3)

To translate is to make decisions. This is the case with any form of writing, of course, but here, we must also follow several complex concurring requirements. They are not self-imposed (intimate veracity or personal imagination), but come from the outside: from the original text, that exists as a whole, and that we must recreate through the prism of another language. Because of its anteriority and authority, the original text takes precedence over the translated one. In the end however, the translation prevails, since it is the only text that we see. Obscuring the original, the translation turns it into a secret presence hidden in its folds, a palimpsest. In the best case scenario, the original will appear in transparency, secretly nourishing the translation. 



We decided to write a new translation for this Richard III. It is a dance on a knife’s edge. This sharpness is crucial for the momentum of spoken language on stage, and it demands from us to be audacious and acute, inspired and vigilant, faithful and free. We need to work with rigor but take initiatives, using memory and imagination, firmly guided by several essential principles. 

1. First of all: musicality. Shakespeare is a poet. His words don’t speak, they continually sings. The pace of the verses, the order in which the words are written, the rhythm of the lines, the sonority of the pauses: everything is in play, everything matters, everything resounds and echoes. Twelve years ago, Gérald Garutti directed his own Richard III. The production took place in the UK, with twelve British actors, and was entirely in English. Therefore, Gérald Garutti’s starting point was the original text he had explored in such depth, when he had immersed himself in it over the dense and busy year then spent working on the play. At the time, he had never resorted to the French language. This deep and long exploration gave him an intimate, embodied knowledge of the fabric of the play, acquired after many hours spent hearing the words, reciting them, meditating on them, thinking about them, and directing them in their original language, with their original musicality. It is through this primordial resonance that Gérald Garutti envisages translating Richard III. He ambitions to reproduce the breath of Shakespeare’s words, to come as close as possible to its timbre and different rhythms, to look for the strictest pertinence of its volumes and dynamics, with in regard, the original text.         

Let’s look at a simple example: the following verse, taken from Margaret’s curse on Richard:

“Thy friends suspect for traitors while thou livest”

“Tes amis, soupçonne-les de traîtrise toute ta vie”



From a rhythmic perspective, far from smoothing the violence of Shakespeare’s text, where words emerge and are highlighted according to their importance, we echo in French the panting quality of the original text, where words nail friends to the edge of a verse, turning it into a secret object of suspicion that, eaten away by treachery, runs to the end of the verse and finds a conclusion in life itself. 

From a melodic perspective, we transpose into French the spurting venom contained in the maledictions, alternating between sibilants and dentals. From the point of view of metrics: the canonical ten syllables of the Shakespearian verse (the iambic pentameter) become fourteen syllables in the French version. This allows us to echo the same density of words, which means we can keep a similar sonic mass between the two languages. This is always a great challenge given how extremely concise the English language can be, using monosyllables when the French would use longer words. The following verse, found in Richard’s opening monologue, is a typical example: “that dogs bark at me as I halt by them”. Amounting to ten one syllable words, it becomes a nightmare for any metrics-conscious French translator. 

Therefore, when Jean Lambert-wild, as a poet and as an actor, tests a translated verse by uttering it, he pays attention to the syllables that are accented and the ones that slide, to the way they hit and sound, their speed and access. He speaks the verse out loud to Gérald Garutti who, in dialogue and in return, refine its melody. And so on, again and again. It is a high-flying exercise that this duo of acrobats executes since last summer, without a net but with a conscience, throwing themselves into the abyss with each verse.   



Un clown, alité, face à son propre reflet, face à un double féminin qui se métamorphose, lui renvoyant l’image de...