5 Minutes with author and translator Daniel H. Daniels

jpaprocki@islandpacket.comNovember 2, 2012 

  • "The Misanthrope" will be performed Nov. 8 to 11 and Nov. 15 to 18 at ARTworks in Beaufort. Cost is $17, $12 for students, $7 for children and $12 for groups. Nov. 8 and 15 are Pay What You Can performances.

"The Misanthrope" is one of famed 17th-century playwright Molière's most popular works. But it was originally written in French. Can it be just as good in English?

It's the job of translators like Beaufortonian Daniel H. Daniels to make sure that it is.

Daniels has translated several of Molière's pieces into English. The Palmetto Theater Xperiment puts on his version of "The Misanthrope" starting Thursday at ARTworks in Beaufort.

Daniels, also known locally for his short stories, explains how not to lose too much in translation.

Question. What attracted you to "The Misanthrope"?

Answer. The characters and the action is so similar to what happens today, despite the fact that Molière wrote it 350 years ago. When you get down to it, people haven't changed that much. There are social climbers, gold diggers, wife beaters. There is also love and people who care for each other. These are the things Molière deals with in his plays.

Q. How does "The Misanthrope" deal with those things?

A. "The Misanthrope" is about a man, Alceste, who insists the truth should be told unvarnished, regardless of whose feelings you're hurting. His friend says that you can't do that all the time. And then Alceste falls in love with a flibbertigibbet, a social butterfly who epitomizes all the things he abhors in society. It's a spoof, a great comedy.

Q. You've translated many pieces before. What is that process like for you now?

A. It's a wonderful process, exciting and fascinating. I got into translating because I served in the foreign service for the State Department for many years. I knew Italian and Spanish. After I retired, I decided to go back and get a master's degree in French. I was 66 years old. In the process I had a course in Molière's plays. I enjoyed the rhyme and rhythm of his language.

Q. How difficult is it? I imagine you have to massage the language a bit.

A. The translator has to consider more than just the literal translation. There's the rhyme and rhythm; sometimes you have to adjust the meaning to get the rhythm of the language right. There's also context. Molière makes fun of the royalty at the time but that reference would be lost to modern audiences. You have to keep your play focused so that it is meaningful to the audience. It's a delicate balance. You have to be as true to the meaning as possible. But the idea is to elicit a similar emotional reaction from the audience that the original play did.

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