"Entreat her hear me but a word" : Translation and Foreignness in Titus Andronicus
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Tam. Lav. "Entreat her hear me but a word": Translation and Foreignness in Titus Andronicus Adam McKeown Clarkson University And even the Latins, who profess not to be so licentious as the Greeks, show us many times examples but of strange cruelty, in torturing and dismembering of words in the midst, or disjoining such as naturally should be married and march together, by setting them as far asunder as they possibly can. -Samuel Daniel "Entreat her hear me" Toward the close of act 2 of Titus Andronicus, Tamora and Lavinia stand face to face in a conversation neither understands very well. The two women-one a Goth, the other a Roman; one treacherous, the other faithful; one a captive become queen, the other a princess become captive; each in her tum a victim and accomplice in an internecine and self-replicating plot of murder and revenge-find they cannot communicate. The scene is rich with the drama's most important rhetorical and epistemological concerns, but however it obviously works on that level, I want to propose that the scene also stages a problem with language in its most basic sense: Two people from completely different cultural backgrounds are running up against a language barrier. Lav. Sweet Lords, entreat her hear me but a word... 0 , be to me, though thy hard heart say no, Nothing so kind, but something pitiful. I know not what it means; away with her! 0, let me teach thee for my father's sake, That gave thee life when well he might have slain thee. 204 THE POLITICS OF TRANSLAnON Lav. Tam. Tam. Lav. Be not obdurate, open thy deaf ears. Hadst thou in person ne'er offended me, Even for his sake I am pitiless.... o Tamora, be called a gentle queen, And with thine own hands kill me in this place. For 'tis not life that I have begged so long... What begg'st thou then, fond woman? Let me go! 'Tis present death I beg; and one thing more... tumble me into some loathsome pit." Do this, and be a charitable murderer (2.2. 137-178).I Perhaps they need a translator. Someone who could have spared Lavinia the trouble of having to "teach" Tamora what she means by "pity" or explain to Tamora how in the Roman lexicon "pity" means something other than "kind" or how a "gentle queen" is one who might kill with her own hands. A translator might have helped Lavinia avoid such clumsy constructions as "charitable murderer" and prevented the two from arriving at the end of their impassioned dialogue having to reexplain what they were discussing in the first place. "Confusion fall-" is Lavinia's final utterance before her tongue is severed shortly after this scene, the pathetic irony of the language barrier having run its ghastly course. Among Shakespeare's Roman plays, only Titus is so concerned with the confrontation of cultures, with the foreignness of the Latin language, and with the constant and irreconcilable presence of foreignness in general-the inevitable suspicions, misunderstandings, intermarriages, confused allegiances, and dissolutions of tradition that always seem to accompany it. Titus very pointedly enacts the most infamous confrontation of cultures Elizabethan society knew, a confrontation already loaded with the dark promise of the end of empire, of a world era and of an order of things broadly conceived. But to discuss these issues as matters of translation is to engage the reader in one of those games of academic three-card monte in which a term is introduced and shuffled about without much explanation of how it differs from less gimmicky ways of describing the same phenomenon. Titus is not, after all, a translation. Moreover, the centuries of critical outcry against this troubling play make it too ready a cause for well-intentioned scholars seeking the simple key that will manumit a great drama from the prison of bloody sensationalism in which this one is bound.' I propose instead to examine translation in terms of the play. Translation, both of language and of culture, emerges in Titus with all the creative energy and cultural pride, as well as all the misgivings and feelings of cultural vulnerability, appropriate to an England that was aggressively but anxiously fashioning TRANSLATION AND FOREIGNNESS 205 a global presence and emulating the continental Renaissance. This argument begins and ends with a culture's attitude toward the foreign. Ostensibly, translation is an expression of value for another culture's intellectual products, but it is a...


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Subject Headings

  • Translating and interpreting--Europe--History--To 1500.
  • Translating and interpreting--Europe--History--16th century.
  • Civilization, Medieval.
  • Renaissance.
  • Literature, Medieval--Translations--History and criticism.
  • European literature--Renaissance, 1450-1600--Translations--History and criticism.
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