Saturday, September 4, 2010

Lost in translation: why have we declared war on foreign dramatists?; (London) Guardian, 9/1/10

John M. Morrison; (London) Guardian; Lost in translation: why have we declared war on foreign dramatists?: Classic plays in foreign languages are being rewritten for modern audiences who have no idea that what they're seeing is quite different from, and vastly inferior to, the originals:

"Whatever will these silly foreigners get up to next? Did you hear about the Chinese version of Hamlet that gave the play a happy ending? Surely we all know you can't rewrite the classics, and my Chinese example is imaginary. But British theatre commits artistic assault and battery of this kind on an increasingly regular basis. The victims, sprawled in the wings with their scripts torn to shreds are invariably playwrights who had the misfortune not to write in English...

One can argue that in the theatre anything goes, particularly when the author is safely dead and long out of copyright. But one of the principles that marks off theatre from film is respect for the artistic integrity of the author's text, even when he or she is no longer around to complain. That's why we squirm to think of Nahum Tate reworking King Lear in the 1680s to give Shakespeare's tragedy a happy ending."

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