The Brothers Menaechmus and Comedy of Errors Essay

The Brothers Menaechmus and Comedy of Errors Essay

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Different translators have different motives—to preserve, to condemn, to apply, to illuminate and so on—which are helped or hindered by the different opportunities and obstacles presented by the conventions of a given literary mode. This paper will seek to elucidate the unique opportunities comedy presents to a translator, in this case William Shakespeare, of a play, The Brothers Menaechmus by Plautus. Due to the rules that govern comedy, Shakespeare was afforded the ability to move beyond creating a copy of Plautus and merge his work with the original: The Comedy of Errors is an adaptation of Menaechmus, but it is also a continuation of its predecessor. Shakespeare’s play should not be viewed as simply a separate and original work; it is that, but it is also the second part of a single, larger whole. By looking at how wordplay and repetition function in the world of comedy, simple devices like punning and the running gag can provide a template for addressing more complex issues like the contiguity of thematic concerns across both works.
It is common knowledge that a joke imported from one language to another loses something in the translation, and, like all common knowledge, this is true up to a point. If the translator attempts to import the joke word-by-word into the new language, something will indeed be lost and the joke will almost certainly fail. That literal translation does not work for comedy, however, should not be viewed as a problem for translation but merely a problem for the literal-minded, for comedy is not the realm of the literal. Characters who adhere too closely to the literal rules of words and customs tend to find themselves in dire straits, and translators of comedy should take their cue from this...


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Greene, Thomas M. The Light in Troy. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1982.
Plautus. “The Brothers Menaechmus.” Trans. E.F. Watling. The Pot of Gold and Other Plays.
Ed. Betty Radice. London, England: Penguin Classics, 1965. 97-146.
Shakespeare, William. “The Comedy of Errors.” The Comedy of Errors. Ed. Harry Levin. New
York: New American Library, 2002. 1-75.
Venuti, Lawrence. “Introduction.” Rethinking Translation. Ed. Lawrence Venuti. London,
England: Routledge, 1992. 1-17.
Vinay, Jean-Paul and Darbelnet, Jean. “A Methodology for Translation.” The Translation
Studies Reader. Ed. Lawrence Venuti. London, England: Routledge, 2000. 84-93.
Wofford, Susanne L. “Foreign Emotions on the Stage of Twelth Night.” Transnational Exchange
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