Thoughts On Theses: Daria Chernysheva
Issue   |   Wed, 12/02/2015 - 01:33

Daria Chernysheva is an English major writing a thesis on the early translations of Shakespeare from French into Russian. As a sophomore, Chernysheva studied as a Folger Shakespeare Library fellow, which sparked her interest in Shakespeare’s emergence in imperialist Russia. Her thesis adviser is Professor Anston L. Bosman.

Q: Can you give me an overview of what your thesis is about?
A: I’m looking at the first translations of Shakespeare’s Hamlet to appear in Russia in the late 18th century and early 19th century. I will be mostly looking at their French analogues, and I hope to see a triangular relationship between England, Russia and France, which is buttressed by trade and the flow of ideas and literature. I have a theory that in the Russian translations, there is an interest in the conception of the state and national identity. I am particularly interested in how the emerging intelligentsia in Russia conceived of the state and its relationship to the West.

Q: Did intellectuals and writers in Russia at the time think that they could learn about the state or a sense of national identity from the Shakespeare?
A: It’s very difficult to say that these early translations are actually Shakespeare. In many cases, you will find writers denying any relationship with Shakespeare. Sumarokov, for example, was the first person to translate Hamlet from French into Russian in his 1748 work. When he was accused of butchering or falsely adapting Shakespeare, he said that his Hamlet has nothing to do with Shakespeare’s. Jean-Francois Ducis, the French translator of the 1769 Hamlet edition, which became the decisive translation and that made its way through Europe before Shakespeare’s work did, wrote on the title page of his translation “Imitated from the English.” His work is a warped clone or a sister of Shakespeare’s original play.

Q: When were the first translations done in the Russian?
A: In 1812, Viskovatov took the play by Ducis and produced the 1810 Russian translation of Hamlet. You can see that this is a very clear translation work. Viskovatov, however, makes no mention of Ducis or of Shakespeare himself. At this time, Shakespeare is being adapted on stage in Russia and Napoleon invades Russia in 1812. It’s a very patriotic play. What I examine is the patriotism and sense of national consciousness that emerges in that play.

Q: What generated your interest in this field?
A: I was at the Folger Shakespeare Library as an undergraduate fellow during my sophomore winter. I ended up reading about Shakespeare in Russia and looking at his incarnation up to his presence in the Soviet era. Much work has been done on Shakespeare in the Soviet era — on what was staged and repressed — but not so much work has been done on the early 19th century. In the 19th century, the Russian intelligentsia felt misunderstood and they identified with Hamlet. But the early incarnations of the play in the 18th century have not been studied as much, so that is what interested me.

Q: What are the major intellectual questions that you hope to explore through this research?
A: One of the big questions that has interested me is whether one should have a concrete sense of national identity before one has a sense of national literature, or whether a national literature precedes a national identity. It’s a bit of a chicken or egg question that doesn’t have a clear answer. I would personally argue that they tend to emerge at about the same time because literature often reflects its circumstances. I am also interested in a conception of translation that is very different from how we think of translation today. Translation was not about being faithful to the original but improving it, editing it, and putting your own twists into it. It was very much a conversation, and imitation was one of the highest acts of honor that one could pay to another writer. The act of taking another’s work and doing your own writing in that style was very important in the late medieval period and the early Renaissance. Those concepts were still very present in the late 18th century in Russia.

Q: What are some of the challenges you have come across, especially in terms of encountering early translations and trying to use some of the theory you have read in order to understand them?
A: I have started to whittle down the core texts that I want to work with and have decided to focus on the core three by Sumarokov, Jean-Francois Ducis and Viskovatov. Those are the three primary texts I will be consulting. There’s a lot of academic work and a vague nebulous halo of research pertaining to these works. Professor Bosman encouraged me to go down the theory path, but I feel that my close reading skills are stronger. It is difficult because I am doing this project in the English department, but it is very inter-departmental. The difficulty is keeping my audience in mind and making sure I provide an appropriate amount of background information so that readers can contextualize my sources. I also want to make it an English project in terms of close reading and how I am engaging the texts.

Q: What do you think looking at these earlier texts might reveal about some of the later evolutions of Shakespeare in Soviet Russia?
A: These three works really don’t fit into that narrative. They are sort of the odd children of the group. By the middle of the 19th century, you see very faithful translations of Shakespeare in Russia, with the English often printed on the opposite page. By that point, the French have been cut out as the middle-men and Shakespeare is being engaged directly. As for the works I am looking at, it is difficult to say who they influenced or why they matter at all. A lot of critics dismiss them and say that they don’t matter, but I’m trying to prove that while they were not staged how Shakespeare’s Hamlet was staged in England, there is still some value in them.

Q: Finally, how might your research influence contemporary understandings of Shakespeare in translation?
A: I think this project is interesting for globalized Shakespeares. Many countries today have an easy time staging Shakespeare because they don’t have to adapt or conform. They don’t have to translate Hamlet into their language as their language was spoken in the 16th century. Some critics have pointed out that Shakespeare’s Hamlet is foreign to us as English speakers because he is temporally so distant. Contemporary, non-English speaking countries and stage groups ignore that problem because they translate directly into their modern speech. What interests me is how language is used across these three texts and how language contributes to a certain national identity. At that time in Russia, secular language and secular nationalism began to emerge. All of this is brewing in this pot that is my thesis.

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