William Shakespeare’s controversial play The taming of the shrew is viewed by many critics, since the 16th century, as inherently patriarchal and sexist. An Afrikaans translation by Nerina Ferreira, under the title Die vasvat van ’n feeks, was staged in 1983 by the Performing Arts Council of Transvaal (PACT), with William Egan as director. Through the lenses of feminist translation, gender and performance studies, this article seeks to form an impression of Egan’s and Ferreira’s ideological attitudes pertaining to gender. It also aims to infer the sociopolitical commentary they might have endeavoured to make with this translation of Shakespeare’s comedy about the role of women in a male dominated society. This investigation is broadened by considering the worldviews and practices in the period of the source text’s origin and comparing it to the inferences made through a study of the translation. Within the intersection of theatre and translation studies the translated text is viewed as the culmination of a group project and the term translation, therefore, refers to a wider range of conversions than those of one verbal language to another. As such, Egan and Ferreira are both referred to as translators: Egan is regarded as an intersemiotic translator and Ferreira as an interlingual translator. This translator centred investigation depends primarily on the study of an unpublished script (which contains adjustments, commentary, stage directions, and a cast list), and of specific paratextual sources (including biographical information on Egan and Ferreira). Die vasvat van ’n feeks is interpreted as a subtle feminist revision of The taming of the shrew. With this article an effort is made to attend to the often underacknowledged work theatre directors and, in particular, (female) theatre translators do to create counternarratives within certain hegemonies. The publication of plays’ scripts and (moreover) drama translations is, after all, less profitable than that of most other literary genres. Moreover, theatre exemplifies (as opposed to film, to name but one example) a time and space bound performing art form.
Since this article employs a sociological translation studies approach, it is guided by the theoretical work of Bourdieu. This includes the following factors: the field in which the studied agents (in this case, translators) operate, in other words “the site of a power struggle between participants or agents”; and the habitus, that is “the broad social, identitary and cognitive make-up or ‘disposition’ of the individual” – in this case, again, the translator(s) (Munday 2016:237). These conceptual categories link the translators as individuals with their broader sociocultural context and it is within this interchange that Die vasvat van ’n feeks is read. Since the research object is translator’s intent, I draw, as heuristically sensibly as possible, on biographical information on Egan and Ferreira, and cast their work against the broader sociohistorical backdrop of South African theatre between 1970 and 1990. This sociohistorical grounding of the research lens serves not only to enable informed speculation pertaining to translators’ intent. In view of my feminist preoccupation, it accords with Callaghan’s (2016b:4) remark that feminist Shakespeareans also often act as social historians. Callaghan’s statement rhymes, additionally, with the sociohistorical approaches to literary history since the 1970s by, among others, Gilbert and Gubar (1979), the comparable approach to feminist theatre studies since the 1980s by theorists such as Case (2014), and the sociohistorical focus of Flotow’s (1991) and Simon’s (2005) feminist translation studies since the 1990s.
The most prominent feminist theory employed in this article is Rich’s concept of revision which she describes as “the act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old text from a new critical direction […] to know the writing of the past and know it differently than we have ever known it; not to pass on a tradition but to break its hold over us” (Rich 1972:19). Whether in response to Rich’s writing, or merely in the indirect wake of second wave feminism (of which Rich is a key figure), the research of translation scholars such as Simon, Flotow, Lotbinière-Harwood and Newmark is characterised by a simultaneous rediscovery of unsung female translators and a revision of translations that have previously perpetuated the subjugation of women. While this article participates in the revision of South African translation history with the attention it gives to an extremely productive yet under-researched female translator (Ferreira), it also reads her and Egan’s translation of The taming of the shrew as an act of revision, since the changes made to the source text (inevitable in all translation) bespeak their joint reading of this text as critical of patriarchal misogyny.
I pair Rich’s feminist theory with Lefevere’s concept of translation as rewriting. While translations can enforce guiding ideologies on the one hand, it can also challenge them by transforming them manipulatively in the translation process. In this way it can undermine the intention of selectors, curators, and other canonising agents in cultural production industries. This is one of several ways in which Lefevere describes translation and its related practices as rewriting.
A revised and rewritten translation of a text with canonical status, such as a Shakespeare play in South Africa, can shed fresh perspectives on a source text and in doing so, contribute to a broader social reassessment of the text’s perceived intrinsic rhetoric aim.
This article finds that between the two translators, Ferreira’s transformative hand in the translation is the lightest, although her alteration of the title and her translation of especially gendered pejoratives conveys a subtle yet pertinent feminist reading of the source text. In Egan’s editing of the text, he slightly accentuates the misogyny of the male characters, especially through a prolific addition of sexist pejoratives. On an extra diegetic level his interpretation of The taming of the shrew is further considered by means of casting decisions indicated in the script, and some stage directions, as recalled by Sandra Prinsloo, the actress who played the part of the title character.
Prinsloo’s recollection is invaluable in the light of this production’s sparse and currently inaccessible archival traces. In this way, this article seeks to contribute to a South African archive of women’s history and feminist translation and theatre studies. It seeks not to present Die vasvat van ’n feeks as a successful and unproblematic representation of women, since such an assessment is in any case dependent on but one of many feminist schools of thought. It does, however, aim to identify this translation’s specific feminist intention and to publicise a yet under-documented feminist project in South African theatre history.
Keywords: Afrikaans Shakespeare translations; William Egan; feminist revision; feminist theatre; feminist translation studies; interlingual and intersemiotic translation; Nerina Ferreira; South African and Afrikaans theatre translation; William Shakespeare