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Retrouver la voix originale d’Ibsen : le projet Ibsen in Translation

Ibsen—not Lost in Translation

A Short Background to Ibsen in Translation—a project developed at the Centre for Ibsen Studies, University of Oslo
Ellinor Kolstad

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1Ibsen in Translation is an ongoing project, sponsored by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Its aim is to produce direct translations from Norwegian of twelve of Ibsen’s contemporary plays. The project started in 2009, and the following nine plays have been translated so far: The Master Builder (2010), A Doll’s House (2011), An Enemy of the People (2012), Pillars of Society (2012/2013), Ghosts (2013), Rosmersholm (2014) The Wild Duck (2014), The Lady from the Sea (2015) and Hedda Gabler will appear in autumn 2016. The next three plays to be translated will be: Little Eyolf, John Gabriel Borkman and When We Dead Awaken.

2Two seminars are held each year at the Ibsen Centre in Oslo. The languages used in the project are Spanish, Arabic, Egyptian, Chinese, Russian, Hindi, Japanese and Farsi. The first drafts of the translations into each of the languages mentioned are discussed thoroughly during the seminars. The translators present their problems within the text regarding realia and cultural differences. Experts from the Ibsen Centre ensure that the solutions found are as close as possible to Ibsen’s original text.

3The aim of the project is to produce versions of Ibsen’s texts for the stage, new material for directors willing to stage new translations of Ibsen’s work.

4Ibsen is a major playwright, whose work is performed every single day on stages across the globe; in terms of staging, his popularity is second only to Shakespeare. Although Ibsen’s plays have been widely translated (into as many as eighty different languages), many of these versions are based on relay translations. For instance, the Chinese translations were often translated via German and Japanese into Chinese.

  • 1 . Uncle Vanya was the first play by Chekhov translated by Kjell Helgheim directly from Russian. It (...)

5Some years ago, two events made me aware of the special problems raised by the translation of drama and led me to suggest this Ibsen in Translation project to the Ibsen Centre, which very generously agreed to support it. The first was the publication of new translations of Anton Chekhov’s work, translated directly from Russian.1 When they were performed in Norway, both audiences and theatre critics were shocked as the playwright they discovered on stage was very different from the Chekhov that was familiar to them. In the earlier translations (dating back to the 1950s and the 1960s), the plays were melancholy and sad, supposedly a reflection of the Nordic soul. Moreover, Chekhov’s very individual sense of humour had been totally suppressed.

6For me, these new translations proved how choices made by earlier translators can totally change the reception of a playwright. Tellingly, these translations can have long-lasting consequences if they are used as the basis for further second-hand translations.

  • 2 . H. Ibsen, E. Sprinchorn (ed.), 1965, Letters and Speeches, London, MacGibbon & Kee, p. 117.

7As a professional translator, it seemed obvious to me that nuances and details, irony and linguistic subtleties can get lost in the translation processes. However, I also realized that directors and actors do not necessarily demand a linguistically “correct” translation, or one that is close to the original. This impression was reinforced during a meeting organized by The Norwegian Association of Literary Translators in May 1980. We had invited Else Michelet, the translator of Three Monologues by Dario Fo to talk to us. She had translated from Danish for a specific production at our National Theatre in Oslo. Not only had she included the Danish mistakes but she had also added some jokes of her own. Although our Italian specialists were very critical of her version, the people working on the stage production insisted that she had provided them with the kind of language needed on the stage, whereas translation specialists seemed to lack that sense of poetry and oral language. Their view seemed to echo Ibsen’s own vision of drama translation. In a letter written in 1872, he argued that putting a drama into other languages was “not simply a matter of rendering the meaning, but also, to a certain extent, of remodeling the expression and the metaphors, of accommodating the outward form to the structure and requirements of the language into which one is translating”.2

8Today, as a result of those experiences, our Ibsen in Translation seminars devote attention to both the exactness of the translation and to the oral quality of the translators’ suggestions. The papers by the project’s Spanish and Hindi translators illustrate this point at greater length.

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1 . Uncle Vanya was the first play by Chekhov translated by Kjell Helgheim directly from Russian. It was staged at the Norwegian National Theatre in autumn 1976.

2 . H. Ibsen, E. Sprinchorn (ed.), 1965, Letters and Speeches, London, MacGibbon & Kee, p. 117.

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Référence électronique

Ellinor Kolstad, « Ibsen—not Lost in Translation », Palimpsestes [En ligne], 29 | 2016, mis en ligne le 17 mai 2017, consulté le 11 décembre 2018. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/palimpsestes.2343

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Ellinor Kolstad

Ellinor Kolstad a étudié les langues et la linguistique à l’université d’Oslo. Elle est diplômée de littérature russe et a traduit plusieurs romans russes en norvégien. Elle a effectué un mandat en tant que présidente de l’Association norvégienne des traducteurs littéraires (NALT). Elle a travaillé pendant dix-huit ans au niveau international pour l’Union des syndicats norvégiens, dans le domaine syndical et des droits de l’homme. Au sein de l’Association norvégienne des traducteurs littéraires, elle a lutté pour la défense des droits des traducteurs et la garantie de tarifs minimaux et de contrats équitables avec les éditeurs et les médias.

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