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Tuesday, 31 October 2017 18:29

Call for papers: International Conference - Translating and adapting canonical works in contemporary Anglophone theatre

22/23 June 2018
Université Paris 8 Vincennes Saint-Denis and
Université Paris 3 Sorbonne-Nouvelle

Organisers: Isabelle Génin (Université Paris 3 Sorbonne-Nouvelle), Marie Nadia Karsky (Université Paris 8 Vincennes Saint-Denis), Bruno Poncharal (Université Paris 3 Sorbonne-Nouvelle)
EA 1569 TransCrit, EA 4398 PRISMES / TRACT, with the contribution of RADAC (

Over the centuries, Anglophone theatre has traditionally imported plays from the European continent (France, the Scandinavian countries, Germany, Russia...), most of the time adapting them. In the last forty years, however, British and other Anglophone playwrights have seemed to be increasingly inspired by canonical works, translating, adapting or rewriting them. Molière, Racine, Marivaux, Chekhov, Sophocles and Euripides, for instance, are all classics in the sense that they belong to a well-established theatrical canon, and many contemporary playwrights and poets turn to them at some time in their careers. Martin Crimp said he adapted Molière’s Misanthrope in 1996 as a way of overcoming the « writing block » he was then experiencing. What were the motivations of other authors such as Tony Harrison, for instance, whose Misanthrope, performed at the National Theatre in London in 1973, is one of the first in a long series of contemporary translations and adaptations of Molière’s plays ? In 1975, Harrison went on adapting 17th-century French theatre with his Phaedra Britannica, written after Racine’s Phèdre. Other poets and playwrights also adapted Racine’s play (Ted Hughes, Timberlake Wertenbaker) or Seneca’s (Sara Kane’s Phaedra’s Love was commissioned by the Gate Theatre in London in 1996). Euripides and Sophocles have been adapted, among others, by Timberlake Wertenbaker or April de Angelis. The list of canonical works and classics adapted for the contemporary stage in the Anglophone world is quite long: since the 1980s, there have been dozens of different translations and adaptations of The Seagull, not to speak of Chekhov’s other plays.

Has surtitling—enabling audiences to see and hear plays in the original—had an impact on the number of translations and adaptations into English ? What seems to be paramount among contemporary playwrights is the desire to weigh their production against canonical works, as though the latter were a sounding board, amplifying the questions raised in our times. Past and present, familiar elements and their rediscovery in a new light interact on the stage in a paradoxical form of tension. What does the rewriting of canonical works reveal about playwriting and staging these last fifty years? Are there any recurrent themes? How do they fuel some of the stylistic concerns of contemporary dramatic writers?

We have not mentioned Shakespeare, whose works are also a constant source of adaptations (by Bond or Barker, for instance), because what seems striking and well worth researching is the frequency with which contemporary Anglophone playwrights resort to works in foreign languages. What does crossing linguistic, historical and cultural lines bring them ? Both translations and adaptations have been mentioned – the fact is that in qualifying their work, contemporary playwrights often use the different terms « translation », « adaptation », and « version » without specifying their differences. As David Johnston points out in in Stages of Translation, theatre translators view translation as tied in with creation and linked to creative writing, though they are aware of the transient dimension of their work.

Translations and adaptations are sometimes done by people working in pairs : when the contemporary playwrights do not know the language of the original, they often rely on a first, literal translation done by a professional translator and then move away from it in their final version. Whose voice is most heard in the translations and adaptations of canonical works by contemporary authors ? How do classic and canonical texts influence the writing of contemporary playwrights ? Do these translated or rewritten plays form part of a quest for new forms of theatre ? Do they participate in redefining writing for the stage, or do they echo forms of writing and preoccupations which might belong to more traditional lines ?

Conference papers will also look into the concrete role played by foreign canonical works on the contemporary Anglophone stage. What plays, genres, and authors are mostly translated or adapted ? Are canonical works still dominant among translated and adapted foreign plays as they were a few years ago[2] ? How do different politics and policies have an impact on translation and adaptation ? And how does the situation vary according to the different Anglophone countries?

Papers will be given in English or in French and will be 30 minutes long, followed by 10 minutes for questions. Abstracts are to be sent by 30 November 2017 to :

Marie Nadia Karsky : This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Isabelle Génin : This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Bruno Poncharal : This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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