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Translating drama for stage performance : a comparative case study of two Chinese versions of William Shakespeare's King Lear

English Abstract

Drama is a special literary composition or a story designed by playwrights and performed by actors on a stage in theater. Drama is often seen as a branch of literature because plays, like other forms of literature, are often printed in book form. In the case of translating a drama text into a target language, drama translation is often equated with the literary translation for other genres of literature such as poems or novels in a general sense. Therefore, it tends to pose questions for translators about whether a drama text should be translated in the same ways as translating novels or poems. Unlike a novel or a poem, a drama is originally written to be performed on stage, and the script of a drama is not a finished work because it is an outline or a blueprint for a performance on stage. Moreover, a drama text can be read as a piece of literature. In other words, in the case of drama translation, a drama written in a source language can be translated for the readers at home or the audience in theater in a target language. Thus, the consequence of drama translation can be readeroriented or performance-oriented. Owing to the nature of drama translation, some scholars address a prominent question about what the main criteria are in drama translation. The present paper tried to find answers to the question by analyzing the way a Shakespearean play is translated into Chinese for readers and theatrical performance. Since the research about translating a foreign drama and put it on stage is comparatively more complex and worth more attentions, the main purpose of this paper is to analyze the way a source drama are rendered for the ultimate purpose which is a theatrical performance for the audience in the target language. The translation analysis is based on two iv chosen Chinese versions of William Shakespeare’s King Lear for the abovementioned types of target recipients. One of the versions is made by the accomplished Chinese scholar Zhu Shenghao, who has translated 31 of all Shakespeare’s productions. Another translation is made by one of the Hong Kong famous translators, Jane Lai, who has contributed her great efforts to the Hong Kong theatre scene, mainly in the area of translation of play scripts for stage performance. The data analysis shows that when translating for the target reader, the translator can put the main focus on the reproduction of the original style of the source drama. The main task of the translator is to transfer the original message from the source drama text to the target readers, making the translated text comprehensible to the average readers in the target language. By contrast, due to the absence of annotations and the design aspects of a theatre, applying concise and colloquial language as much as possible in a translated drama for a theatrical performance deserves great considerations. The use of colloquial language is important since it can please the ears of the target audience in theater. The research in this paper is put forward to examine the plausible reasons why some certain translation strategies should be considered and applied by drama translators. Moreover, some implications of the findings are also discussed.

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Iong, Weng Hou


Faculty of Arts and Humanities


Department of English




Shakespeare, William, -- 1564-1616. -- King Lear

Drama -- Translating

English language -- Translating into Chinese


Li, Jian

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