Richard III – Loyaulté me lie # 09

Translating Richard III (2/3) 

Shakespare embodies the flesh of the world – he savours its flavours, embraces its fervour, digests its matter. Concrete, sensual, his words soar up, they know no spatial limits, they are a language that perpetually reinvents itself. Shakespeare’s poetry encompasses all fields: magnetic or political, erotic or metaphysical, domestic or historical. The Globe’s Bard fears nothing: neither perilous gaps nor joyful triviality, neither astounding tangents nor insistent hammering. This absolute freedom is our guide for the translation. We are concerned with expressing the essential colourfulness, the radical audacity, the convulsive beauty of the original text.   

Too often, Shakespeare is translated into French through either one of three prisms. Each one offers a different approach, but all three diverge from the spirit of the original English text. 1. The language is made to sound classical, which wears down its gravelly asperity and its protruding and playful disparity. Both the spirit of play and the demon of life how it is lived are lost. With them, gone is the baroque spouting of the original (it sounds like Shakespeare hijacked by Racine). 2. A literal interpretation that borders on barbarism, it highlights the Shakespearian monstrosity without however finding its French transposition. It runs the risk of obscuring the original intention, perpetrating an act of violence against grammar and meaning, and turning the text into something that can’t be put on a theatre stage (it sounds like Shakespeare crushed by Google Translate). 3. Extrapolation from a partial subjective reading, the third option moves the genius of the English language to alien horizons, distorting its truth and twisting its words, perverting its dynamics and meaning. The translator puts their own internal music and biased personal mythology centre stage (it sounds like the translator reinterpreted by Shakespeare). 

How could we let the power and the strangeness, the insolence and vitality ring out, without taking refuge in a classical reduction, an opaque faithfulness, or a hare-brained interpretation? The answer: by lending an ear to the poetry of humour. When Gérald Garutti directed Richard III in the UK, with his troupe of English actors, he was struck by the comic deflagration that their performance provoked. Then, Richard was not just an unsavoury character, sinisterly plotting. Suddenly, he was a murderously humorous joker, a polymorphous pervert possessed by the pleasure of play – nasty play, shooting gallery, bonfire. The actors would laugh, in their heart of hearts, and the spectators would laugh with them, with the licence of an audience freed from taking things seriously. It is this poetry inherent to humour, black, sour, blood red humour, that we seek to translate, with alacrity and driven by the place where all energies originate from: the stage. Richard’s force of corruption, perversion and destruction makes him a real black sun of melancholy, yet almost all the time with tremendous comic energy. Distanced from itself, from the world and from others, it defies and plays with everything, starting with itself. Yes, indeed, Richard plays – in all the meanings of the word – and doing so, he gambles his life and his fate. The clown that Jean Lambert-wild has developed through many previous shows is fully realised now that he puts on the ruff of the Black Prince of York, last one of his line, the end of an explosive lineage – “all the world to nothing”.

The scene we are currently working on, where Clarence is murdered, is a good example of this pervasive humour that sometimes appears where we expect it the least. Pretending he was ordered to do so by his reigning brother King Edward, Richard sends two assassins to kill his other brother Clarence. However, when faced with the body of their sleeping victim, the two murderers realise, in turn, that “some certain dregs of conscience are yet within” them, travelling from the first murderer’s soul to the second’s “elbow” via Richard’s “purse”. It leads these two “hardy, stout” henchmen to “reason” with the man they are supposed to kill when, a moment before, they were pondering whether to “make a sop of him”. This ethical and practical ping-ponging is a succession of hilarious contradictions, from commercial calculations to culinary recipes, interspersed with “what”s that Gérald Garutti consistently translates (going against a very French and uncalled-for dislike of repetition, Raymond Queneau once wrote in The Blue Flowers that “repetition is one of the most odoriferous flowers of rhetoric”). This way, Jean Lambert-wild and Élodie Bordas can blame one another, slapping each other with incomprehension and an almost obscene brutality. This is especially impactful since the murderous duo appears straight after Clarence’s dream, sublime yet horrible and pathetic vision, poetics of dream and catastrophe, where the captive prophesises his own death, seeing himself pushed from the deck of a boat by his brother Richard:

“O, Lord! methought, what pain it was to drown! 

What ugly sights of death within mine eyes! 

Methought I saw a thousand fearful wrecks; 

A thousand men that fishes gnaw'd upon; 

Wedges of gold, great anchors, heaps of pearl, 

Inestimable stones, unvalued jewels, 

All scatter'd in the bottom of the sea: 

Some lay in dead men's skulls; and, in those holes 

Where eyes did once inhabit, there were crept, 

As 'twere in scorn of eyes, reflecting gems, 

Which woo'd the slimy bottom of the deep, 

And mock'd the dead bones that lay scatter'd by.”

Whether it is this extraordinary vision of endless drowning at the bottom of an abyss of death and beauty, or the prognostic of a dip taken in a barrel of wine seasoned by two fickle henchmen, when he translates Shakespeare, Gérald Garutti seek to embrace the variety of genres, impressions and realms used by the Bard. This way, he gives Jean Lambert-wild and Élodie Bordas substance to play with and to live, allowing them to deploy beauty, with all its horror and all its laughter.



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