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Shakespeare in Portuguese

Today is Brazil’s Independence Day which is celebrated throughout the country with outdoor events like parades, air shows, musical concerts and fireworks in the evening. To mark this occasion Brazilian professor and translator Rafael Raffaelli reflects on the challenges of translating Shakespeare into Portuguese.

Rafael Raffaelli

I was born in São Paulo, Brazil, in 1953. I have a PhD in Clinical Psychology, with Post-Doctoral studies in Theatre, and am currently a retired professor from the Federal University of Santa Catarina (Brazil).

I translated into Portuguese four Shakespeare’s plays: As You Like It, The Tempest, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Macbeth. To translate Shakespeare is an arduous endeavour and a challenge to every translator in any language. I had to decipher the obscure metaphors, the historical and cultural references, the archaisms and neologisms, puns, idioms, fixed expressions and proverbs used in the Elizabethan era.

Beyond the historical, cultural and linguistic aspects of the text, Shakespeare’s remarkable knowledge about the natural world required a special attention; e.g., the charmed potion cooked in the cauldron of the weird sisters (Macbeth 4.1) has a reputation of being an authentic account about witchcraft, as the magical concoction would be made up with specimens from the British Isles that Scottish witches might come across. These specimens were possibly chosen by its ‘malignity’ in terms of being poisonous or evil in accordance with common sense beliefs in Shakespeare’s time. In addition, the potion contains parts of mythic or exotic animals chosen strictly by its symbolisms. I added explanatory notes to the text to make the readers aware of all these allusions and semantic complexities.

But nothing surpasses the difficulty of translating the iambic pentameters, as rhythm patterns are impossible to reproduce in Portuguese since verses written in Portuguese have a metre determined by the number of syllables in a line. In order to solve this problem, I employed the decasyllable pattern solely in the translation of the rhymed lines. I intended to be faithful as possible to the original plays and produce similar effects on readers as those created by Shakespeare on his audience. Furthermore, I opted to translate the plays in plain Portuguese that may be comprehended by non-specialist readers and may be staged in the way they were translated.

Group photo Portuguese translation image one
Portuguese translations by Rafael Raffaeli which he donated to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Library

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