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Metaglossia: The Translation World
News about translation, interpreting, intercultural communication, terminology and lexicography - as it happens
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Alan Hollinghurst: translating Racine

Described as a 'ravishing elegy', Berenice is today regarded as one of Racine's best works. But how to translate such a formally rigorous play?

Alan Hollinghurst: translating Racine
Described as a 'ravishing elegy', Berenice is today regarded as one of Racine's best works. But how to translate such a formally rigorous play?
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Alan Hollinghurst
The Guardian, Friday 21 September 2012 22.55 BST
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Anne-Marie Duff rehearsing the title role in Berenice. Photograph: Simon Kane
Two men enter a grand and empty room, one marvelling at its splendour, one wary and preoccupied. The former is a soldier and a servant to the other, a foreign king who is also a great military hero. The king speaks a phrase: "Arrêtons un moment" – as if reluctant to set in motion a sequence of events which once begun will bring him certain misery. He comments on his attendant's marvelment, completes a long verse line, then speaks another, which rhymes with it. Already two things, one dynamic, the other cumulative, have been initiated: on the one hand the metronome of rhyme has begun to tick and the rhyming couplets that follow will enact over the coming 90 minutes a movement as inexorable as time itself; on the other, a unit, of form and sense, has been set down, one on which each of the characters in the play will in turn place further blocks, the rising stairs of an invisible monument.

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