Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Couplet vs. The Punch

For my part, I thought I'd take a moment and write about some of the differences between two translations of Plautus' Amphitruo from Latin to English. One by Lionel Casson (the punch) and the other by Edward Sugden (the couplet.)

Like the other bloggers, I'll be focusing on the scene where Sosia arrives and Mercury beats him and sends him packing. I'll try to be succinct.

First, for context's sake, I should mention that Casson's translation was published in 1963, while Sugden's was published in 1893.
The most immediate difference between the two is the general structure. As implied by the title of this post, Casson's translation is a lot punchier, and feels more stage-ready (at least in a modern context.) It has a good pace (or at least a good a pace as it could have in such a Plautine scene) and most of the jokes fit more smoothly, though not all. Also, Casson's translation has stage directions on almost every line of the play. This may be viewed as taking liberties (and it is,) but the stage directions are all very fitting when considering the dialogue.
In contrast, Sugdon's translation follows the more formal structure of shaping everything into rhyming couplets. This doesn't make it of a lower quality outright, and in its own right it is a clever translation, but after so many rhyming couplets it's easy to become tired of it and to wish he would stop trying so hard to make the entire play that way. Perhaps ironically, some of Sugdon's decisions regarding how to translate the jokes actually worked a bit better than the Casson translation, and the couplets do give a nice quirky feel to the exchange, though this quickly deteriorates into what sounds like a hyper-extended Dr. Seuss reference. As with the original fragmentary script we have, there are no stage directions in this translation, and it seems to be more of a literary translation than one intended for performance.

In conclusion, one translation isn't necessarily "better" than the other, it's just that they were made with slightly different intents in mind. For our purposes, which are to perform the play in a modern and relatable context, Casson's translation is definitely the better fit.


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