Romeo And Juliet" Or "Juliet And Romeo


The author makes an attempt to consider the characteristics of the modern perception of W. Shakespeare, taking into account the accumulated experience and modern tendencies. The purpose of the article is to identify areas of interest in the works of William Shakespeare in a transition society. The author of the article makes an attempt to consider the validity of the interpretation as an adaptation of the original text and possible distortion of the original text on the material of fragments of Shakespeare's play "Romeo and Juliet", compared to their translations into Russian. The study takes into account the game factor of drama and the translation process. The author attempts to analyze the translation by AshotSagratyan and his personal comments to justify partial distortions of the original text in terms of interpreter's values and intention. Conclusions and prospects for the study: The prospect of recreating classical literary heritage seems to be effective only taking into account the interaction of interdisciplinary socio-philosophical, philological, and axiological inter-semiological interpretations, where the emphasis is laid on adequacy of perception. This approach provides the opportunity to explore the perception of the classics and actualize perspective recreating of literary heritage.

Keywords: Translationinterpretationdiscoursetranslation-game communicative subtext


Creative heritage of W. Shakespeare survived its time and for many centuries has been the testing ground for approbation of various literary techniques and critical schools, each of which were guided by their own idea. This idea has served as a starting point for establishing criteria for assessing the creativity of the great playwright. Any attempt to comprehend Shakespeare is another approximation to the idea of the author’s intent, where the horizon of the knowable is constantly slipping away.

The secret of the popularity of Shakespeare's creativity seems to lie in the versatility of his stories, characters and language, meeting the demands of its era, but remaining relevant in our time:

  • Plots are built on stories from different sources-the Bible, fairy tales, fables, chronicles, etc.

  • Actors are representatives of different sectors of society, not just the Lords and princes, as in classical French drama.

  • The language of plays includes an endless variety of discourses, presented by speeches of Kings, servants, Jesters, priests, sailors, etc.

  • The language of the plays is highly metaphoric; one comparison is built on the use of the previous one, making viewers of the past and present, listen carefully to each phrase.

Problem Statement

Translation is always a new interpretation, a new incarnation of the original. Hence, the translator has a right to fairly free interpretation of the latter. Thus, when translated into another language the interpreter’s role, apart from the sender and addressee, is claimed by the third party of the communication act, who is conducting contact between them and the translator. From the standpoint of hermeneutics merging of the work of art and its many interpretations is considered a prerequisite for true comprehension of the ideal of an author's intent.

Evaluation of the quality of translation cannot be indisputably accurate or single, whatever science-based approaches are used by the evaluator. It depends on an understanding of the creative individuality of the translator and his creative intent (things that are close, however not always match). It includes the notion of “good luck” and “failure” and is associated with literary and translation traditions and attitudes, literary-social and political environment, ethical and aesthetic criteria and many other parameters. Translator in the translation process influences the translated text, and creates an up-to-date communicative subtext that implements values, semantic and stylistic motifs of the original through the prism of a certain era.

Research Questions

  • Translation discourse as a key to the ideal interpretation model;

  • Interpretation as a pragmatic adaptation and/or possible distortion of the original;

  • Hermeneutic approach to the interpretation of a work of art as an excuse for the right of an interpreter to a relatively free interpretation.

Purpose of the Study

Translation discourse is analysed for justification of partial distortions of the original text in terms of interpreter's values and intention.

Research Methods

Comparative study of translations of Shakespeare into Russian in comparison with the original text with the account of the translation discourse makes the basis of the research.


Translation discourse can serve as one of the resources to create an idealized image of translation activities in the form of optimal translation model. In this study an example of translation discourse is presented by AshotSagratyan's own comments to his poetic translation-interpretation of Shakespeare's play "Romeo and Juliet", released in 2014. The text was named "Juliet and Romeo".

Let’s consider how justified is such a distortion. Any reading, as well as any interpretation leads, according to J. Derrida, to “iteration” and to change, that is to distortion. Yan Probshtein in his lecture on translation at the University of Bologna mentions that creativity is impossible, and any translation from the language of images, visions, from the language of the divine to Earth language, is distortion. He refers to the idea first expressed by Plato inhisdialogue "Ion". The philosopher generally believed that any transition from contemplation to attempt of expression is distortion. However, there were also Neo-Platonists, primarily Plotin and Longin, who said that “although the ideal is unattainable, but in striving for the unachievable is the path to perfection” (Probshtein, 2014).

According to Komissarov (2002), the translator as an intermediary in cross-language communication can set various objectives in order to achieve certain results. “Basically, these results are classified according to four items. First, the task of the translator may be to ensure adequate understanding of the receptor of the transmitted information. Secondly, the translator may seek specific communicative effect, create desired emotional attitude of the receptor of the transmitted information, and make him experience relevant associations. Thirdly, the translator can aim to induce the receptor to some concrete action, call to a practical response. And, finally, the translator can use his translation with the aim of achieving an "extra-translation" outcome, a decision of some ideological, political, mundane or axiological tasks that have nothing to do with the adequate reproduction of the original. In each translation the translator may pursue one or more of such purposes. Each of them may require a special pragmatic adaptation of the translated text, its "iteration”, and as a result, the possible refusal from maximum equivalence” (Komissarov, 2002). In this sense, classical works represent a huge potential for interpretation, because understanding works in every new era with its new value orientations is enriched by numerous interpretations.

So, why still "Juliet and Romeo"? As commented by Sagratyan (Sagratyan, 2016),“Shakespeare himself identified Juliet as a leading character in the Verona medieval drama. Juliet’s love is the motive power of the play, its nerve. Romeo matures through her feelings. The gap, which they need to overcome, provokes her fears. Juliet’s exceptional composure adds them dignity, her virtue contrasts with the figure of a monk, the bearer of advanced by the time ideas of the great righteous Francis of Assisi”. In the fundamental work "Introduction to translation experience. Art, tangible by pulse", introducing into the science of translating the concept of"intone", the author of this translation, following the euphony of the play, as he says “strictly kept to the Shakespeare spirit of drama, grown to a tragedy”. 

Explaining the title of the optimistic tragedy, the author refers to the most famous works of world classics-"Tristan and Isolde", "Ruslan and Lyudmila", "Antony and Cleopatra”, whose names indicate the rule of patriarchy. Meanwhile, as you know, the whole history of human civilization rests on the power of woman’s love and originates from matriarchy previous to patriarchy. Shakespeare, from the translator’s point of view, highly respecting the Chronicles and biographies, could hardly walk past history of tragic love, which began as far back as the 7th century a.d. in the Arabian Desert. In the XII century it was paid tribute by the Persian poet NezamiGanjavi and his poem "Leyli and Mejnun". It's a poetic tale of unrequited love of a young poet Mejnun to his peer Leyli from a hostile tribe. This touching story in rough translation might have reached Shakespeare, who decided to place his characters in Verona. 

Shakespeare is known to have raised in his works a wide range of political, social, moral issues, including not bypassed by his attention questions of spirituality, intellectual and moral equivalence between men and women. If you look at all the characters of Shakespeare's plays, it turns out that his female characters in their diversity and richness are not at all inferior to the male ones. By using the means of artistic expression, the author shows that a woman’s intelligence, talent, will, spiritual richness is in no way inferior to man’s. It was an unusual sight in the times when the primary role, according to tradition, belonged to a man. However, as noted by Smirnov (1939), in the introductory article to the publication of works by William Shakespeare, “obvious is superiority in relation to the intelligence and will of Helena over the count of Bertram, Viola over Duke Orsino, Portia over Bassanio and, perhaps, Juliet over Romeo” (Smirnov, 1939). Obvious is spiritual superiority of Desdemona over Othello, whom she fell in love with “for the dangers”. Katherina from the play "The Taming of the Shrew", one of the most brilliant illustrations of richness and completeness of feminine nature, in the process of “taming” prevails over Petruchio thanks to intelligence, tolerance and femininity.

Thus, the idea of internal equivalence of women and men was contained initially in the author's text, and spotted by a respected researcher A.A. Smirnov and found its decryption in the interpretation, offered by AshotSagratyan and not just him. If you look at history, apparently, the poem by Arthur Brooke "The Tragic History of Romeus and Juliet" originally served as the basis for the story of Shakespeare’s tragedy. Brooke developed the plot, borrowed from the novel by Italian writer Matteo Bandello, translated into French. Bandello’s narration was an extended, detailed retelling of a more compact work by Luigi Da Porto, which first depicted Romeo and Juliet and some other characters, involved in Shakespeare’s play. The novel by Da Porto was published under the title "Juliet/Giulietta" in 1539. Da Porto influenced not only the creation of Bandello’s novel, but also a small poem titled "Unhappy love of Julie and Romeo" by Gerardo Bolderi, the gentleman of Verona. In these titles the name Juliet also appears in the foreground.

Perhaps the translator knew about this background, perhaps following the modern change of values in favor of equality, and sometimes dominant role of women, he has changed roles of the characters, which is reflected in the title.

The right of the translator to a relatively free interpretation is justified by the mentioned above hermeneutic approach to the interpretation of works of art, suggested by H.G. Gadamer, namely that the work itself is a reality and an event and not just their description. He believes that the complete text interpretation is not possible, and meaning can never be exhausted. Artwork, according to H.G. Gadamer, is not something completed and objectively given, it is something changing and dynamically developing. And its understanding is not a system of rules, but a fundamental property and way of being human. Understanding is a historical process, part of which is text. It gets different interpretations, which reveal its semantic expression. And there is no single correct interpretation, there are lots of them, and they all have a right to being. Interpretation is circular in nature, which in hermeneutics is expressed through a hermeneutical model range, which implies that the whole is understood on the basis of the parts, and parts are understood on the basis of the whole. Hermeneutic circle is referred to as a model of a constant development, building understanding (Gadamer, 1999). The leading role of Juliet in the love story in the author's interpretation of AshotSagratyan is the “whole”, which sets the understanding of private scenes of the play, which, in turn, “work” on a coherent interpretation. Translation in this case does not reach full equivalence to the original, but it does not deny its uniqueness.

Another likely cause of changes in the author’s title in translation is the game factor of Shakespeare’s creativity. Plays were originally designed for the stage performance, play of Shakespeare's language and scenes are exciting and unpredictable.

Characters created by Shakespeare, as stated by M. Morozov (1954), not only live and breathe; they change in the course of events (Morozov, 1954). Romeo at the beginning of the tragedy is a youth; at the end of a tragedy (although it's only been a few days) he calls himself a man. He now calls Paris a youth, who may be older than he. At the beginning of the tragedy Romeo’s speeches are full of rhetoric and pathos. Before meeting Juliet love for him is “feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health, a madness most discreet, a choking gall, and a preserving sweet”. Romeo surrenders to sad thoughts, suffering from unrequited love for the cold beauty Rozaline, Juliet's cousin. His cousin Benvolio and his friend Mercutio are trying to cheer up the young man with reckless jokes, which contrast sharply with his elegant and ornate style of expression. In this manner is describedthe first meeting with Juliet in the garden.

Translation as a process and a result of creativity is also a game. Translation of a work of art is a special form of the game, which is to seek rather adequacy than equivalence with the original, ability to adapt (which is impossible without at least partial distortion of the original), is a peculiar form of creativity. Playing with adequacy is defined by emotional, cultural and linguistic status of the translator, as can be seen in the comparison of the original text and the translated version.

Table 1 -
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As we can see, in translation replicas are more compressed, emphasis is placed on keywords that create the image of Juliet, through which Romeo matures: “light, bright face, clean, radiant look, and dream”.

In subsequent scenes in conversation with Friar Lawrence Romeo complains that flies can touch the lips of Juliet, and he had to flee her kisses; He calls “flies” free men, wittily “playing” with the words “fly” and “to fly”. When the servant Balthasar brings to Verona news of Juliet's death - Romeo says:

“Is it even so? then I defy you, stars! Thou know'st my lodging: get me ink and paper, And hire post-horses. I will hence to-night” (Shakespeare), - we see another Romeo.

Pathetic style distinguishes Juliet’s speech, the Juliet, whom the Nurse affectionately calls the “lady bird”, the Juliet at the beginning of the tragedy. But Juliet, unlike Romeo is very sincere and at the same time cautious in her confession of love.

Table 2 -
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We may talk again about selective functional translation, translation-adaptation, in which replicas are more compressed; emphasis is placed on keywords that create the image of Juliet- “shame, pride, decency, honour and transparency”.

Juliet’s replicas are part of the fine sonnet in the first dialogue with Romeo. Her elevated monologue, calling the coming of the night largely recalls the pathetic style of Christopher Marlowe. When Juliet learns from her nurse that Romeo killed Tybalt, her grief is expressed in typical euphuistic metaphors: “serpent heart, flowering face, dragon keep so fair a cave”. Compare all this with Juliet's last words:

“What's here? a cup, clos'd in my true love's hand?

Poison, I see, hath been his timeless end:--

O churl!

drink all, and left no friendly drop

To help me after?-

I will kiss thy lips;

Haply some poison yet doth hang on them,

To make me die with a restorative”(Shakespeare, 2008).

Love transforms Juliet of girls to a heroine, the one she is by nature. Mourning of the Nurse, Paris, the Capulet father is contrasted by words, such clear and simple, which end the tragedy and which seem to sum up the events: There was never a story sadder than the tale of Juliet and her Romeo.

Translated by A. Sagratyan the latest replica of the Duke reads as follows:

«Меж знатными домами мир и лад.

Урок им преподала боль утрат.

К чему тачать двуспальные гробы?..

Не лучше ль быть в любимцах у судьбы?!» (Sagratyan, 2014, 109)

As the translator writes in the Afterword to the publication of "Juliet and Romeo", “roots of doom are lost in time, no longer remembering the causes of discord. The eternal question is transformed into another form: “To love or not to love?” In this form the deep humanistic thought is reflected. All artificial, alluvial, deceitful is gone. Artificiality is conquered by nature. In the closing A. Sagratyan recognizes that the key to understanding and resolving the challenges he faced was given by “the author himself, the poet and thinker, in aphoristic form encoded his philosophical system in the mistiness, searching for an exit he leaves to the discretion of the viewer and reader” (Sagratyan, 2014, 111).


The translator in the translation process influences the translated text, and creates an up-to-date communicative subtext that implements values, semantic and stylistic motifs of the original through the prism of a certain era. There is no single correct interpretation, there are lots of them and they all have the right to being, which sets future research. Meanwhile quite lawful are distortions of the original test, dictated by individual translation intention. Translator’s interpretation provides transference of the artistic word expressing the author's idea with its subsequent rethinking in interpretations of the same artistic work through translation. Thus, the life of the original is extended and translated text as a spiritual creative product finds place in the system of core values, not excluding that the next generation will “wish” their own Shakespeare.


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30 April 2018

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Sociolinguistics, linguistics, semantics, discourse analysis, translation, interpretation

Cite this article as:

Lukinova, M. (2018). Romeo And Juliet" Or "Juliet And Romeo. In I. V. Denisova (Ed.), Word, Utterance, Text: Cognitive, Pragmatic and Cultural Aspects, vol 39. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 88-95). Future Academy.