Translating Hamlet

I really loved Norman Lavers’ short story “The Translator.” As an English major I’m kind of embarrassed to say this, but I’ve never actually read Hamlet before… I don’t know–it’s never been assigned in any of my classes, and even though a lot of the books and films I love reference it a lot–Fanny & Alexander!–somehow I just haven’t gotten around to it yet? While I’ve not read Hamlet, I am proud to say that I have seen a totally awesome film adaptation, so now whenever I hear “to be or not to be” I imagine Ethan Hawke coolly but aimlessly meandering through the “Action” section of his local Blockbuster…! But now that I’m thinking about what a travesty this really is, I am solemnly vowing to read Hamlet after I graduate this summer, and when I do I will definitely keep Lavers’ “The Translator” in mind.

As I was reading this “metafictional” short story, which follows an Asian translator as she struggles to bring this landmark of the Western canon to the Japanese language, I was wondering how true to the original her “translation” really was. Some of the images were beautifully and poetically surreal, so I found myself thinking, “I really want to read Hamlet if that is in there.” For instance, this sentence in particular really stood out to me as being both sad and beautiful at the same time: “And everywhere that there was blood, sparrows flew out, thousands and thousands, and fighting them was like fighting the drops of water in the sea.” …Is that in the original?

If nothing else, Lavers’ short story at least succeeds in renewing my interest in reading the classics. I think “The Translator” is a good example of how even though supposedly everything has already been said and done as far as literature is concerned, writers can (worst case scenario) just build new stories based off the ones we already have. Because, as we discussed in class, even Hamlet follows the form of a classic “revenge tragedy,” and is therefore inspired by the literature that preceded it. Like I said, I don’t know how “original” Lavers’ story really is, either, but I guess I will find out soon enough.


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