Translation and The Debatable Lands

In one sense, we are studying on the edge of literature.  Translation occupies a paradoxical position: as an art, it lies at the heart of poetry, and as a discipline, it roams the Debatable Lands between the art of literature and the science of language.  One of the difficulties inherent in translation studies, and a major reason why academic critics in modern language departments so often struggle to come to terms with the discipline, is this indefinite location.  Moreover, it reveals the machinery of the poetic process, while at the same time undermining authoriality by demonstrating the extent to which language exceeds authorial intent.  Of course, this excession, this afterlife, may on occasion be a tribute to the authorfs use of language; and it does demand consistency and skilled judgement on the part of the translator.  Translation is the ideal medium for examining the interaction of human volition and linguistic intent.


There appears to be inconsistency in the statements that The Penguin Book of Renaissance Verse contains many texts which do not deserve the name of literature and that the average efforts of a translator, such as Bartholomew Yong, repay study.  The contradiction is resolved if we assert that the former merit study as historical documents, while the latter call for critical attention because they offer insights into the nature of language through the relationship between tongues.  The aim of art may be to conceal art, but this is not necessarily true of translation; texts that demonstrate the effort required for this process are every word as valid as those that read with the fluency of an original.  Art intensifies language, forcing a greater depth of reflection and expression, through the imposition of arbitrary, but calculated, rules; translation continues this process in various ways, depending on the choices made by the translator.  He faces so many options in his rewriting of a text that one could claim that the writing of a preface to justify his choice is as vital as the composition of the translation itself.[1]  The eAuthorfs Prologuef of the 16th-century, calling for patronal protection against carping Zoilii and dogs-in-the-manger, justifies the composition of the text as the individual defends his use of language – and so his character.  This urge to self-justification is of necessity more pronounced in the translator, whose work can be compared with an existing, estandardf text.  If his choice involves the retention of the external form of the original, then imposition becomes superimposition.


Bartholomew Yong, in his Diana, translated from the romances of Montemayor, Pérez, and Gil Polo, introduced a number of new words and metres to the English language.  The number is small, and their lives were short; but the fact that these introductions have, by and large, passed unrecorded signifies just how little is known about this period of English literary history.  He is a significant translator in a significant age of translation.  Much can be learnt about the Elizabethan mind by a study of the manner in which late 16th-century writers treated their sources, but it is necessary to extend this study beyond the egreatf figures of North, Florio, and Golding.  In the impression of Elizabethan translation created by the editors of the eTudor Translationsf series and Francis Otto Matthiessen, it is the dramatic quality of the translations, and of Elizabethan prose in general, that is emphasised: the eye for specific detail, the substitution of concrete images for abstractions, and the use of transitive verbs.  The translators are naturalising their sources, and thus are seen as shaping the language of Shakespeare.  This exaltation of Elizabethan prose through its association with drama, this praise of language for its cadences and colloquial vigour, meant that the poetry of the age was regarded by these critics as distinctly inferior.  Matthiesen is unable to appreciate Goldingfs Ovid or Haringtonfs Ariosto; he believes in the barriers of metre, that it takes a poet to translate a poet, and that one would read Chapman only if one knew no Greek, whereas the reader with Greek would still prefer Northfs version to Plutarchfs original.[2]  Whatever one thinks of the Elizabethan style of translation – and to laud it in glowing terms is as futile as to attempt to depreciate it, for it represents one aspect, one vigorous usage, of language – translators such as North, Florio and Golding are the greatest exponents of that style.  However, those translators who adopt a slightly different approach, who refuse the temptation of amplificatio in order to translate line-by-line – Marlowe, Carew, and Yong – are equally interesting, if not more so.


If we had to select two words to describe Elizabethan translation – according, that is, to the common perception of Elizabethan translation – then they would be evigourf and eliberty.f  Those who glorify this age stress the fact that the Elizabethans were men of action, in word as in deed.  They sailed the billowing seas in search of New Worlds, and they rode surging waves of prose, with the decuman being the King James Bible.  The two Tudor Translations Series (1892-1909) and (1924-7) date from the Age of Empire; the dedication to Cecil Rhodes makes this obvious.  It was perfectly natural for the imperialistic age to return to the time when England first became a European power and its language produced a literature fit to rank with the best in Europe.  Whether or not the Authorised Version is better than the Geneva Bible, it appeared at the end of this period, not at the beginning of Elizabethfs reign, and can therefore be seen as a culmination.  The shadow of this work lies inescapably over past attitudes towards the prose, and the translated prose, of the late 16th century.  Two years before the first Tudor Translation Series began, there issued from the press of the same publishers – David Nutt – an edition of Angel Dayfs Daphnis and Chloe (1587).  This is universally recognised as being a poor translation, and the tone of the editor is quietly apologetic; nonetheless, he remarks that it is Elizabethan prose, and this leads him to draw an immediate connection with the King James Bible.[3]  The image of elibertyf as displayed by North, Florio and Golding in their treatment of the originals is a strong and enduring one.  For example, in the foreword to his translation of Leucippe and Clitophon, John J. Winkler states: gI have exercised the responsibility of my freedom as a translator with far less liberty than the great Elizabethans.h[4]  This is the impression that one has of Elizabethan translation; Winkler does not mention his Elizabethan predecessor, William Burton, who actually displayed very little of this freedom.[5]  It is difficult to tell whether the prevailing tendency in Renaissance studies is the raising of marginal voices or an increasing concentration on a small number of canonical authors: whichever may be the case, it is necessary to expend some time on the likes of Yong, Carew, Kepers, Burton, Dallington, and Peterson – to name only a few – to question the current image.  Much of what we discover may turn out to be new evidence for old facts; we may be disappointed by the level of language that we find; but the search is essential if we wish to attain the most thorough understanding of this age, and of translation in this age, of which our minds are capable.


Consideration of the image thus created makes it easier to understand why Diana was not included in the series of Tudor Translations.  Those who had not read Yong believed, on the basis of Bullenfs vituperations, that his translation lacked sinew and independence.  Although it is an impressive achievement, presenting the result of many hours of arduous mental labour – the book contains nearly 500 folio pages and over 160 poems – it is a discourse on love, with little action and a great deal of song, and it is not what one has come to expect from the swaggering Elizabethans.  The contemplative portrayal of love was criticised by some male readers (and, as we shall see, by some modern critics); romances were associated with idleness in men – and in women.[6]


Form and Content, and Multiple Entries

With regard to Yongfs poetical renderings, he is one of the Elizabethan translators to attempt to preserve both the form and the content of the original.  This does not mean that they do not believe in the separation of res from verba, a separation that explains the lack of practical criticism.[7]  The two are bound together by decorum, an essentially artificial and imposed system – although it is difficult to say whether man imposed this system on language, or language on man.  For example, Herrerafs poetic style differed according to whether he was writing sonnets or odes; in the former, he was restrained and studied, and in the latter his style was more prolix, befitting a genre which was valued more highly and which had a classical precedent.  This was in keeping not only with decorum but also with the restraints placed, and the liberties allowed, by the generic forms that had been imposed on language.  The ability of the sonnet to nip diffuseness in the bud is often mentioned.  Like lyrical poetry in general, it invites line-by-line translation, a mode of operation that we would associate with modern translators of the epic but not with 16th-century translators of this genre, with the exception of Surrey (who was, as we have noted, ahead of his time) and Marlowe.  Such translations as Marlowefs Lucan are often dismissed as school exercises, to be distinguished from literary efforts; there is said to be too much perceptible effort in them.  However, the fact remains that it was published.  Richard Carew produced an extremely close version of the first five cantos of Tassofs Gerusalemme Liberata in 1594,[8] which he (or the printer) had printed beside the Italian text; his motives must be measured against his essay on the virtues of the English language.  It is as if practice had, in a few individual cases, anticipated written theory; Carewfs The Excellency of the English Tongue was probably written around 1605, but the ideas it outlines seem to date from the 1590s.[9]  Of course, we should not state that this was Carewfs etheoryf of translation; he does not even provide a preface.[10]  His intention was simply to demonstrate what the English language was capable of achieving; he was not providing a definitive model.  When a translator such as Carew attempts something new, it is not a revolution, it is an addition, a variation; the Renaissance was essentially a time of revision of existing knowledge.  The experiment is intended to prove a point, not to define a general attitude; Carewfs approach is dictated by the demands of the individual text as viewed through the glass of decorum.  In his The Survey of Cornwall (1602), most of the verse, whether Carew is quoting others or himself, or translating from Latin verses sent to him by Camden, is in the old-fashioned split fourteeners.  He even splits a word at the end of the line – a practice one would associate with English poetry of the 1560s or 1570s.[11]  This work may have been glong since begun,h as he claims in his dedication to Walter Raleigh (3v), but even if this verse really is old, Carew has still made the decision to retain it with little or no revision.  The antiquarian verse is appropriate to a historical and a patriotic text[12]; and we have another example, were one needed, of the importance of studying all the translations penned by one hand.  One final remark here: Carewfs version was followed, six years later, by Edward Fairfaxfs Godfrey of Bulloigne, or The Recoverie of Jerusalem (1600), which was heavily represented that same year in Robert Allotfs compilation, Englands Parnassus: or the choysest flowers of our moderne poetry, with their poetical comparisons, and which has consistently remained one of the most famous translations into English, eclipsing that of Carew.  It is less literal, although it too retains the ottava rima of the original; and it is, importantly for an epic, complete.  Whether we approach the issue of 16th-century translation by translator (Carew), by text (Gerusalemme Liberata), or by external verse-form (ottava rima), we discover variety, adaptability, and wide differences in narrow margins.







[1] Although translators often like to accuse academics of a blinkered, old-fashioned approach towards translation, and although there is often some truth in the accusation, it must be confessed that translators have often done themselves no favours in their prefaces.  The ones who justify their approach by attempting to scrape away the merits of all other approaches, or who demonstrate a lack of historical understanding when passing judgement on their predecessors, are particularly culpable.

[2] Translation, an Elizabethan art (New York: Octagon Books, 1965 [1931]), pp.4-5.

[3] Joseph Jacobs (ed.), Daphnis and Chloe. The Elizabethan version from Amyotfs translation. By Angel Day (London: David Nutt, 1890), p.xxix.  This appeared as Volume 2 in the eTudor Libraryf series.  We would draw a distinction between Jacobean and Elizabethan prose; such a distinction did not exist for critics like Jacobs.

[4] In B.P. Reardon ed., Collected Ancient Greek Novels (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1989) 170-284 (172).

[5] This conclusion is based on my own comparison of the texts.  I am not aware of any critical work having been done on Burtonfs translation, apart from a reference to him as a efaithfulf translator by Wolff (1912, pp.246-7) who had not read the text himself.  Let us say that Burton displays a eLoebf closeness; he displays none of the linguistic gifts that Achilles Tatius uses and abuses with such infuriating Alexandrian relish.

[6] Hence the Puritan Thomas Powell, in his Tom of all Trades (1631), complained: gIn stead of Song and Musicke, let them learne Cookery and Laundrie.  And in stead of reading Sir Philip Sidneyfs Arcadia, let them read the grounds of good huswifery.  I like not a female Poetresse at any handh (p. 47).  Similar complaints – and replies to these accusations – are listed in The New Arcadia, ed. Victor Skretkowicz (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), pp. xliii-xliv.  Gervase Markhamfs defence in gTo the vnunderstanding Readerh in his The English Arcadia, Part 2 (1613: pp. 5-6) is significant:

Nay, saies a third, the great high-treason of all, is to make Noble Sir Phillip Sidney acquainted, either with Diana, or else Heliodorus, as if the excellency of his minde had disdained that which first brought it to perfection (Iudiciall reading) ô no, were he on the earth, he would repine at their curiosity, and tell them, that his contemplatiue labour first brought him to actiue worthinesse.

[7] Terry (1993), p. 38.

[8] Marlowe: Lucans first booke, published posthumously in 1600; Carew: Godfrey of Boulloigne (1594), the first 5 Cantos of Tassofs epic.

[9] D.N.C. Wood, one of the few modern defenders of Carewfs version (and one of the few critics to have read it, which is often the same thing) sought to relate Carewfs theory to his practice in eElizabethan English and Richard Carewf in Neophilologus 61 (1977), pp. 304-315.

[10] The eTo the Readerf is written by the publisher, Christopher Hunt.  He remarks: gcI haue caused the Italian to be Printed together with the English, for the delight and benefit of those Gentlemen, that loue that most liuely language.  And thereby the learned Reader shall see to how strict a course the translator hath tyed himselfe in the whole work, vsurping as little liberty as any whatsoeuer, that euer wrote with any commendationsh (sig. 2v).

[11] (Amsterdam/New York: Da Capo Press Facsimile, 1969).  In the prefatory poem, eI craue not courteous ayd of friendsf (4r); and eCarew of ancient Carru wasf (pp.103v -104v). The translations from Latin: eThis was the Titans haunt, but withf (pp. 57r -58v); eThere is a place within the wind-f (p. 121v, splitting the word ewindingf); and eThe riuer Camel wonders, thatf (p. 122 r).  Carew also employs the traditional sixains, whether his aim be elegiac or his subject angling: eI wayt not at the Lawyers gatesf (pp. 106v -107v); eSeeke not, blind eyes, the liuing with the deadf (p.142r ); and eHe that at sea and land amidst his foesf (p. 145 v-r).

[12] Another translator to produce such a work was William Burton, who wrote the Description of Leicestershire (preface dated 1622).