GUEST POST: The translation process from German into Maltese of Ma Kuraġġ u Wliedha by Loranne Vella
It was a surprising moment for me when two years ago I received a phone call from Teatru Malta asking me if I wanted to translate the play Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder into Maltese, specifically because this text was open right in front of me at that moment. I was reading it to use elements from Courage’s character, and aspects from Brecht’s epic theatre, for two of the main characters in Marta Marta (Ede Books, 2022), my last novel. Moreover, since I describe myself as a writer, an actor and a translator, I wasn’t sure which part of me was mostly saying “yes” to accepting the task of translating this play.
This question became clearer once the translation work began. During the first phase, it was the translator in me who took over. As I read the play in German, a play I was more familiar with in English, specifically Eric Bentley’s translation (Methuen, 1962), I tried to forget everything I knew about it and read as if it were the first time, while I immediately started to look for equivalent words and expressions in Maltese. During the second phase, after finishing the first translation draft, I revised the entire text, this time from a writer’s perspective. As a dramatic playscript also intended for publication, I wanted it to be read as a literary work. And I could have stopped here. However, from the very beginning, I was asking myself the following questions: how am I going to translate a play which, despite the fact that the characters’ present is set in the seventeenth century and their reality is the war which endured thirty years in Europe, will in fact be staged in Malta in 2022? Therefore, how am I going to make it sound valid for today’s audience without erasing the past it’s occurring in? In addition, how am I going to translate into Maltese a play which was written for a specific type of theatre – Brecht’s epic and dialectical theatre; a theatre created to address the political situation in the times of the Second World War; a theatre which requires from the spectators to neither identify nor empathise with the play’s characters but rather to engage in a rational understanding of the theatrical action happening on the stage and a deep discussion about it?
During the last revision phase of the translation process I kept in mind the political commitment of Brecht’s theatre; I allowed my theatrical experience to direct me while I tried, as much as possible, to remain faithful to the original text and emphasise the literary aspect of the writing itself. I can safely say that I had never felt the three fields of my career – as writer, actor and translator – combining into one discipline as much as I have while translating Ma Kuraġġ u Wliedha.