Shakespeare in translation
Sonnet 130 is one of Shakespeare’s most famous sonnets, if not the most famous one. It actually makes fun of the Petrachan conventions of love poetry, that is to say the praises of beauty and perfection and the use of a huge variety of metaphors, based largely on natural beauties. The poet satires the tradition of comparing one’s beloved to all kinds of clichés and actually he subverts and reverses the conventions by describing not a perfect, but a rather imperfect lover. The speaker seems to take the typical Petrarchan metaphors at face value and somehow decides to tell the truth. In the three quatrains there is an expanding and developing argumentation in which a rather negative image of the lover is depicted. In the final couplet the speaker finally shows his full intent by pointing out that real love does not need these conceits and that one does not need to be perfect in order to be beautiful.
To be analysed are two translations of this sonnet, one by Friedrich Bodenstedt from 1862 and the second by Karl Lachmann from 1820, both of which show the complexity of this sonnet both in terms of language and structure.
The differences between the original and the translation by Friedrich Bodenstedt become obvious already in the first quatrain. In Shakespeare’s version there is the alliteration “my Mistress” that occurs in lines 1 and 12 and that frames the three quatrains. This frame is lost in Bodenstedt’s translation. Another formal difference between Shakespeare’s original and Bodenstedt’s translation is that in the first quatrain Shakespeare uses one line for each comparison and establishes pairs of comparison in the following two quatrains, presenting the Petrachan ideal in the first half or line and reality in the second. In Bodenstedt’s version there is no such comparison, but rather the impression of the judgement by outsiders. This impression is reinforced by the change of the speaking situation in Bodenstedt’s translation. Shakespeare