Honors Capstone Project
Date of Submission
Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics
Arts and Science
Capstone Prize Winner
Won Capstone Funding
Arts and Humanities | European Languages and Societies | French and Francophone Literature
My Capstone project is a French-to-English translation of about 1,100 lines of Molière’s Le Misanthrope. I chose that play because I was interested in exploring translation theory and the act of translating — not because I wanted to contribute some revolutionary new work to the numerous translations of it that already exist. I had never tried to translate, so I wanted the project to be an exercise in the work.
I began by selecting the parts of the play I thought to be most significant and helpful in giving a feel for what the play means. The plot was less important than larger themes and showcasing the complexity of the language — if I had wanted it to come through clearly, I would have translated the whole play. I typed out all the chosen parts, partly because I wanted to have a closer feel for the original text, and partly because I wanted the original and my translation to sit next to one another in the final product.
The method I used to translate the text was relatively straightforward. I worked line by line, translating as literally as possible. That is, I looked for English equivalents to the French text rather than reinterpreting it entirely, as most professional translators do. I worked that way because, as I mentioned, I was more interested in the act of translating than in constructing something especially innovative.
I used primarily two period dictionaries, both available online: the 1st and 4th editions of l’Académie Française’s dictionary. Researching French words in French before looking up synonyms in English helped me to create a better idea of what certain phrases — and also individual words whose meanings have changed since the 17th century — meant in the mind and native language of their author. When I got stuck on a phrase, I often turned to Google’s online translator. It would give me the basic idea behind the phrase’s structure, acting as a jump-start.
I translated into a sort of unrhymed verse, though I gave myself no syllable or meter restrictions. The greatest English Misanthrope translation, by Richard Wilbur, is in rhymed verse, and other versions exist in both unrhymed verse and prose. I chose simplicity and literalness, again, because I wanted an experience in basic translation, not full-blown reinterpretation.
I also chose not to look at other translations while I was working on mine. I did consult Wilbur’s at the end of my project, but only to compare and to clean up a few lines with which I had struggled considerably. I wanted my translation to be purely my own, and I knew that consulting others’ works while creating mine would certainly have lead me to borrow ideas from theirs to make mine easier. Because I had no previous experience in translation, I preferred to make my first journey alone so I could draw my own conclusions on what translation theory and the act of translating meant to me. I succeeded in that, finishing with a much deeper understanding of both the text and translation. Ideas — not words — are key in a good translation, though no matter how much work goes into it, a translation will never perfectly reflect its mother text.
Carlino, Ian B., "Molière’s Le Misanthrope" (2013). Honors Capstone Projects - All. 27.
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