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Margaret Ferguson

"Translation, Hospitality, and Homeland Insecurity:

Reflections on Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew."

Margaret Ferguson, University of California at Davis



Beginning with a discussion of Jacques Derrida's critique of Roman Jakobson's commonsensical distinction between inter-lingual and intra-lingual types of translation, my paper locates Shakespeare's Shrew play on the long and disputed border between translations that occur between different languages and those that occur within a given language when "language" denotes an entity considered as "one and the same" to itself.  By analyzing some of the parallels between Katherine's rough education at Petruchio's hands and the apparently more genteel education experienced by Katherine's younger sister Bianca through her exchanges with two suitors disguised (and significantly renamed) as a music and Latin teacher respectively, I reassess the play's concept of the home—and of the kinds of hospitality that it offers and denies to various characters figured as strangers to the two main households of the play: Minola's house in Padua and Petruchio's country house, both of which I view as translations of English places.   Building on the common Renaissance analogy between the domus and the polis, Shakespeare's reflection on various household spaces has significant implications for our understanding of his culture's ideologies of the homeland or nation—and for views of these phenomena in our own culture as well. 


I explore some of the nationalistic dimensions of some modern critics' and editors' view of the Petruchio/Katherine plot as more "authentically English" than the Bianca-plot. I focus on a key scene of Bianca's education (3.1) in which she comically mistranslates lines from the opening poem of Ovid's Heroides. That poem transforms Homer's Penelope by making her a shrewish wife who reproaches her husband for his long absence from home. The allusions to Ovid mingle with echoes of another foreign source-text--Ariosto's play I Suppositi to create an educational comedy that places questions of translation at its shifting center.  My talk supplements critical discussions of Bianca's education by Philippy, Moisan, and Parker, among others, to suggest a new perspective on Bianca and her tutors as translators who in various ways threaten the security of the home.



Margaret Ferguson is a Distinguished Professor of English at the University of California at Davis. Educated at Cornell and Yale, she taught at Yale, Columbia, and the University of Colorado before moving to Davis in 1997.   She has served as a Trustee of the Shakespeare Association of America and chaired the Modern Language Association committee that awards annual prizes for the best literary translation.  Her book Trials of Desire: Renaissance Defenses of Poetry (Yale 1983) addresses questions about the relation between translation and imitation;   her prize-winning book Dido's Daughters: Literacy, Gender and Empire in Early Modern England and France (Chicago, 2003), analyzes French and English women writers in the context of their theories and practices of translation.  Her essay on Aphra Behn as a "Critical Translator" of Bernard de Fontenelle appeared in The Emergence of the Female Reader, 1500-1800.  Ed. H.B.Hackel and C. E. Kelly (Pennsylvania 2007).


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