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Shakespeare & Beyond

Play on! Q&A: Ellen McLaughlin on translating 'Pericles'

Ellen McLaughlin translated Pericles
Ellen McLaughlin translated Pericles

Ellen McLaughlin translated PericlesOver the next few months, the Folger is doing a series of Q&As with some of the playwrights and dramaturgs involved with Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Play on! project to translate all of Shakespeare’s plays into contemporary English.

This month’s Q&A is with Ellen McLaughlin, the playwright who translated Pericles for the Play on! project. Her translation was then transformed into a script used by the Orlando Shakespeare Theater in its 2016 production The Adventures of Pericles.

⇒ Read an introduction to the Play on! project by Lue Douthit, the project director at OSF

Read previous Q&As in the series:

⇒ Q&A with Migdalia Cruz about translating Macbeth

⇒ Q&A with Kenneth Cavander about translating Timon of Athens

⇒ Q&A with Caridad Svich about translating Henry VIII

⇒ Q&A with Elise Thoron and Julie Felise Dubiner about translating The Merchant of Venice

What were your first impressions of the Shakespeare play you translated?

The play that Lue chose for me, Pericles, turns out to have been a strangely apt one for me. I’ve spent much of my writing life working in response to classical Greek plays, and this play takes place in the dying Hellenistic world and is presided over by Greek gods. I’ve adapted nearly a dozen Greek plays now, each one quite differently, but always with the desire to encounter those great works and explore them from the inside instead of merely admiring them from the distance of the present. When I begin work on one of those plays, I feel a palpable sense of transgression. There is the real feeling that anything I do will taint the glorious original. As if I could. In the case of the Greek plays, however, I’m already protected because I’m working from English translations, so the contact is adulterated. I am holding the source with gloves, as it were. With Shakespeare, it sizzles in my hands; the power is palpable.