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24 June 2009

Racine

On the other blog, I intended to have a Corneille thread going, but nothing so far has come of it. I stopped work on Corneille when I started on Ezra Pound. Anyway, it would fit better here, now I've broadened out from Ez to literature generally and translation studies in particular. And part of one of the courses I'm considering gives quite a lot of attention to Le Cid, so I may well come back to it.

Meanwhile, Racine is popping up because his Phèdre is on at the National Theatre soon, and I'm going to see it. The big draw for tickets is Helen Mirren, and she has singlehandely demolished the English distaste for French classical theatre. I'm going to see it on 18 July.

But I am worried because the translation is by Ted Hughes. A fine poet, obviously, but worlds apart from Racine. Rupert Christiansen in the Times (who looks disconcertingly like the Actor Kevin Eldon) discusses this, pointing out that
We expect poetry to be rich in words (Shakespeare uses something like 30,000), whereas Racine is parsimonious (he uses around 3,000).

The numbers seem a bit plucked from the air, but the general drift is true. And he puts it well when he says that Racine is "intensive and exclusive". Ted Hughes is - for all the work he's done on translations - supremely English in his poetry, and has the vigorous - extensive, inclusive - roughness of Shakespeare. While it's hard to imagine how he could submit to the tightly limited range of language that would match Racine, it'll be an interesting contest.

I'm reading Phèdre (in French) again in preparation for the performance, and will have more to say later. You can read the work in progress here.

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