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As Molière translations go, HATER is distinct in two ways. It's in free verse (that is, unrhymed and unrhythmic); and the register of the language is contemporary (rather than any kind of "period").

Both qualities are unusual. Since 1955 (and Richard Wilbur's Misanthrope), virtually every Molière translation - and there have been a lot - has been into rhyming couplets. (Before Wilbur, every Molière translation but one was in prose.) And while most translators claim to want to avoid a heightened, "period" diction - in French, Molière's language still sounds easy and colloquial - I couldn't find one who really went for it, unless s/he was also updating the play to set it in the present.

It's strange to me that nobody has used free verse for Molière, because there are great precedents in translations of other playwrights (Ted Hughes on Racine's' Phèdre, Anne Carson's Greek tragedies) and strong arguments in its favor. Rhymes are vastly harder to find in English than in French, for lots of technical reasons. This forces the translator into all kinds of textual inaccuracies, stilted loqutions, and poorly landed jokes. And once s/he has gone to all that trouble, the effect of rhyming couplets in English is completely unlike their effect in French, so there goes any feeling of equivalency anyway. A better English verse parallel (as a number of others have argued) would be unrhymed iambic pentameter - blank verse - which, like the rhymed Alexandrines in French, sound both classical and effortless. (So why isn't HATER in blank verse? Long story. Free verse did what I needed it to do, and if it's good enough for Anne Carson it's good enough for me.)

Then there's diction. When you're not going crazy trying to rhyme, you can make it sound exactly how you want it to. Like I said, most everyone agrees that Molière shouldn't sound oldey-timey. But then folks are afraid if he sounds too new, it will be "jarring," so they go for something "in-between." To me, in-between is lame, there's no there there, and if you want your Molière to sound old, an awesome and hilarious 1739 translation by Samuel Foote is right here. I personally don't hate jarring.

I didn't land on my approach by thinking through these arguments, of course. I found my way here by experimentation, simply looking for a way to transmit in English what was most exciting to me about the play in French.

If you're interested in more discussion on these questions, an in-depth introduction, alongside the play itself, has been published in The Mercurian, a journal of theatre translation. I hope you check it out!

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