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Communication Dans Un Congrès Année : 2017

A Poor Ear for a Pun: Retranslating Hamlet and Paronomastic Fetishism


The puns in Hamlet have been fetishized by its translators. The play’s paronomasia is haunted by oedipal translation theory (Steiner 1975, Gravonsky 1977), itself haunted by Hamlet. Within this gendered metanarrative, wordplay seems to gain a perverse erotic charge, the characteristic aporia it instills with its ‘metalingual load’ (Delabastita 1988) conceived as a delirious antagonistic arousal. As Lacan reveals (Séminaire XI), at the core of oedipal theory lurks an obsession with quibbling translation. Fetishism is identified by Freud with a fantastic metonymy in a translingual pun (Freud 1927). An Anglo-German nasophiliac obsessed with the ‘gloss’ or ‘sheen’ (Glanz) on women’s noses is supposedly punning unconsciously on ‘glance’ in his (literal) mother tongue of English. The glans goes unmentioned... Having outlined the influence of Shakespearean translation on the psychoanalytic pun-fetish, this paper criticizes structuralist typologies of translation ‘solutions’ to Shakespearean wordplay (e.g. Offord 1990), and particularly Delabastita’s flattering paradigm of metalingual compensation. It argues that the ‘satisfaction’ derived from a quibbling translation, however drily quantified, often results from a narcissistic sense of conquering aporia: the repressive consummation of a culturally fetishized desire. A serious problem arises. Aporia is fundamental to Hamlet. It can be vitiated by premature resolution. Close readings of the play’s French (re)translations reveal an inverse correlation between performative metalingual success and tonal fidelity. Instead the paper encourages a Keatsian ‘Negative Capability’. Translators are urged to beware the ‘riddle-solving’ approach to wordplay and to interrogate the ideological nature both of the ‘eureka’ response and of structuralist analysis. Drawing on Attridge’s (1988) unpacking of the portmanteau, the paper ultimately queries some of its own quibbling and endorses Bonnefoy’s studied ‘failure’ to translate the poison ‘hebenon’ poured in the old king’s ear. Here (listen! : hébénon) is one of the most compelling responses to Shakespeare’s troubling wordplay... all the more telling for its aporia.
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hal-01558384 , version 1 (14-04-2023)



  • HAL Id : hal-01558384 , version 1


Samuel Trainor. A Poor Ear for a Pun: Retranslating Hamlet and Paronomastic Fetishism. Du jeu dans la langue. Traduire les jeux de mots., CECILLE EA 4074; Université de Lille 3 SHS, Mar 2017, Lille, France. ⟨hal-01558384⟩
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