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  • Tudor Translation in Theory and Practice
  • Robert Cummings
Tudor Translation in Theory and Practice. By Massimiliano Morini. Pp. x+151. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006. Hb. £40. DOI: 10.3366/10.3366/E0968136108000137

Massimiliano Morini's Tudor Translation in Theory and Practice is the first attempt since F. O. Matthiessen's Translation: An Elizabethan Art to assess a range of sixteenth-century versions of foreign-language texts. Matthiessen limited himself to prose translations (he ruled discussion of verse out of court on the mystifying grounds that 'it requires a poet to translate a poet'), and then to those prose translations he considered the most important – Sir Thomas Hoby's Courtier, North's Plutarch, Florio's Montaigne, and Philemon Holland's Livy and Suetonius. Morini's selection of specimen texts overlaps with Matthiessen's: they have in common Hoby's Courtier, Florio's Montaigne, and Holland's Livy. North's Plutarch (in any case translated through Amyot) and Holland's Suetonius are dropped in the interests of generic variety, and to make room for the versions of Celestina by John Rastell (as a stageable drama) and James Mabbe (as a novel). Morini adds to his account of these prose texts a marginally longer account of three verse translations: of Ariosto's Orlando by Sir John Harington, and the versions of Tasso's Gerusalemme by Richard Carew and Edward Fairfax, [End Page 111] to show 'how very similar source texts' could provoke very different reactions. Matthiessen's aim was to consider his chosen translations as contributions to 'the main tide of English literature'. The nationalist nostalgia, betrayed by the sea-faring metaphor, has irritated some recent critics, notably in Italy. Against that tide, Morini generously acknowledges Matthiessen's insights and plays down what may be his excesses; Matthiessen is not after all Charles Whibley, the romantic aristocrat that T. S. Eliot made a memorable exemplar of 'imperfect' criticism. But Morini supposes that eighty years on we know more, that we are more alert to the contingency of our own judgements, and that we make more disinterested observers of the procedures of Tudor translators.

The first half of the book explores the theory, such as it was, that informed the labour of translation. For the period covered, there is however no rational vocabulary for talking about translation such as Dryden may be reckoned to have introduced. Even if there were, modernity would have made us suspicious of trusting it. Morini is anxious to historicize what he can gather of Tudor assumptions about such notions as fidelity or equivalence, the literal or the free. He works with an eye on how foreign texts can be manipulated into some kind of recognizable relationship with the literary system of the receiving language, and he is hopeful that the authors he discusses thought the same way, all faithful to their originals but only after their own fashion. It is the history of that dubious fidelity that Morini embarks on, from Caxton's anxiety about the inadequacy of English to reproduce the 'fayr and honest termes' of his French Eneydos, to the confident rejection of the 'servile path' by 'the likes of Cowley and Denham'. It is partly a story of apologies. Morini astutely draws attention to the record of nervous departure from the source text: from Barclay's Brant at the beginning of the century, through Jasper Heywood's Troas or George Pettie's Guazzo, to Harington's Ariosto at the end. Morini would like to tell the story of how 'vertical translation', from source languages conceived as more prestigious, came to be viewed as 'horizontal translation' from the same source languages, now conceived as enjoying equal prestige and equal possibilities. But there are many embarrassments in the way. Not only was the translation of unprestigious authors never anything but horizontal, but translation from high-prestige authors, often mediated by other translations into modern vernaculars, was often effectively horizontal as well. Morini cites the cases of Barnabe Rich's Herodotus and North's Plutarch; even more remarkable is the case of Arthur Hall's Homer, translated from the French of Hughes Salel. [End Page 112]

It is disarmingly honest in Morini to acknowledge that his sources yield...


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pp. 111-119
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