The politics of literary translation

Authored by: Francis R. Jones

The Routledge Handbook of Translation and Politics

Print publication date:  April  2018
Online publication date:  April  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138657564
eBook ISBN: 9781315621289
Adobe ISBN:


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Palić Lakeside, Northern Serbia, a summer evening in 1987. Serbia is still a component republika of Communist-led Yugoslavia. I’m watching an open-air version of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar – not in Serbo-Croat, Yugoslavia’s main language, but in Hungarian, this region’s biggest minority language. The play starts. An open-top Mercedes crunches across the gravel between two waterside lodges, bearing Caesar, clad in cream-coloured suit, every inch the modern Communist-Party bigwig. In the final, civil-war scene, Brutus’s and Cassius’s forces are in one lodge, and Antony’s and Octavian’s in the other – wearing uniforms and bearing weapons that the director has somehow borrowed from the local Territorial Defence forces. The climax is a deafening ten-minute firefight, the darkness lit by flares and the muzzle flashes of Kalashnikovs. Had this staging been attempted in Belgrade, Yugoslavia’s capital, and in Serbo-Croat, the Party bosses would have quickly closed down this parable of power about them. With a minority-language audience in a small border town, they could look the other way – but giving subversive messages to big, capital-city audiences would be another thing. (Five years later, as Yugoslavia bloodily broke apart, the Communist-Party bosses had morphed into nationalist warlords, and had instigated a real civil war – unlike in the play, fought with live ammunition.)

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