An analysis of Richard Flatter's German translation of Romeo and Juliet
Disher, Sidney E
Master of Arts
Since its publication in the early nineteenth century, the Schlegel-Tieck translation of Shakespeare has gradually attained the status of a literary master-piece. Even today, it continues to dominate both on the stage and among the reading public as the "definitive" German Shakespeare translation. Despite its artistic merits, however, scholars and critics have become increasingly aware that the Schlegel-Tieck version contains serious deficiencies in literal and stylistic fidelity to the original. Numerous efforts to "correct" and "emend" the translation, however, proved largely unsuccessful, resulting, in most cases, in a mere bowdlerization of Schlegel's work. In light of the findings of contemporary research on Shakespeare and his art, and the weaknesses of the original and emended editions of the Schlegel-Tieck version, the case for a completely new translation has become ever stronger. Of the numerous recent attempts to meet this challenge, Richard Flatter's work is one of the most outstanding. A noted Shakespeare scholar in his own right, Flatter has produced a translation which features dynamic, modern speech, and close attention to theatrical detail. In Flatter's view, Shakespeare was first of all a man of the theater, an able producer and director who used his great poetic talent to complement his theatrical aims. Flatter bases his entire translation on the First Folio edition of 1623, which he considers the genuine original text, and in the metrical irregularities of which he detects Shakespeare's subtle stage directions for his actors. In his attempts to come as close as possible to his Folio original, Flatter is careful to preserve metrical gaps, broken-off lines and other irregularities found in this edition. He also places much emphasis on the duplication of Shakespeare's "Lautmalerei", or word sounds, which he feels contain subtle suggestions of mood. Because of the inherent differences between the English and German languages, Flatter, like every translator, is frequently forced to sacrifice certain features of the original in order to retain others. In such instances, he almost invariably sacrifices content in order to preserve the metrical form of the original. Taken as a whole, however, these minor deviations are of little consequence when compared with Flatter's overall fidelity to the original. His work should be regarded as an important milestone in the current effort to bring Shakespeare in Germany up to date.