Volume 15, No. 3 
July 2011

  Alessandra Calvani


Front Page

  Translation Journal
Literary Translation

Translating in a Female Voice:

the Case History of Giustina Renier Michiel

by Alessandra Calvani



After a short analysis of the possible reasons linking translation and women, this paper considers the case history of Giustina Renier Michiel, the first Italian translator of Shakespeare.

Due to the lower status of translation in comparison with "original" writing, women were generally permitted to translate provided they did not deal with classical authors.

The analysis of Renier's translations intends first of all to rehabilitate her from the accusations by her detractors. As a woman she was supposed to be insufficiently educated to produce a good translation. As a consequence, her work was usually considered a translation from French, accomplished thanks to the help of her scholarly friends. In fact, text analysis shows that, together with Le Tourneur's translation, she used English versions, paying particular attention to considerations by English scholars regarding the plays she selected. She also used translation in order to overcome the obstacles she faced as a woman in expressing herself. Specifically, evidence is given of her concern about the education of women, which she reveals in her selection of Shakespearian plays and in different parts of the text through comments and translation choices.

Key words: Shakespeare, translator, Renier's translations.

Introduction: Women and Translation

omen and translation have always been linked by a close and special relationship. In fact, when the very idea of a female author was almost a heresy, a pure nonsense, translation gave to women the opportunity to get into the literary world and express themselves. Second hand work, devoid of "originality," translation gave origin to a "second hand" author, someone who comes after, who does not create the text, but rewrites it. This "secondary" status of translation allowed women to approach it without being condemned, and women used this opportunity to write and speak. Douglas Robinson1 analyzed the rhetorical means used by women translators to have a voice and to break the silence. In fact, with reference to four translators in particular, he claims "that these women came to voice by working subversively within established rhetoric of submission, working to transform that rhetoric into surreptitiously empowering channels of expression" (Robinson 1995: 153). It is just by means of that very rhetoric of submission that Giustina Renier Michiel, a nineteenth-century aristocratic Venetian lady, came to voice.

Women and translation have always been linked by a close and special relationship.
In line with the rhetoric which relegated translation to the status of a secondary work, she found her way into the literary world through translation and particularly through an author to whom the status of a canonical one was denied in Italy at that time.

Specifically, I intend to argue: 1) that being a woman she was unfairly charged of being "a translator of translators"; 2) that she faced difficulties as a woman writing with a specific purpose in mind, that of women's education.

In order to provide evidence of what I claim to be an unfair treatment of Renier's translations, a useful starting point could be to ask one question: why should a noble Venetian lady translate in order to have voice and more generally what is it that links women and translation. To answer such a question let us first consider the particular relationship between authorship and translation.

If it is true that, due to its "inferiority," translation could be a woman's task, it is also true that to translate means to have authority over the original text and over the translation reader at the same time. In order to read a book written in a language different from his own, the reader is compelled to ask for translation and to trust the translator, inasmuch the inability to read the original prevents him from comparing it with its translation. The new reader, therefore, depends on the translator. On the other hand, the translator, who obviously depends on the original, has been empowered by the reader to translate, actually to rewrite the original in a new language. Thus the translator, writer of the translation, assumes the role of the author in the new context, inasmuch the decisional process involved in translation together with the change of context and language gives rise to differences in the new text, originated, as a matter of fact, by the translation process. It is thus possible to affirm that the translator, usually regarded as a communicator between the original author and his new reader, has the authorship of the translation and the authority to interpret the original for the new reader. The author has to turn to the translator to speak in a different language and the foreign reader needs the translator in order to read a foreign text. Thus, since its very beginning, the translating process relies first on the necessary trust accorded to the translator by the author and the reader, trust which seems to eliminate or at least conceal any subsequent question about differences in translation. If it is possible to assume, at least in legal terms, that, once translated, the text still has one single author, it is important not to underestimate the difference that always exists between original and translation, usually seldom considered because of that very trust that must be accorded to the translator. The inability to read the original, together with the assumed lack of originality in translation, contributed to giving authority to the translator, sometimes giving rise to manipulation according to a particular ideology. In this connection the analysis of some Shakespearian translations published in Italy during the Fascist period reveals a number of interpolations clearly connected to the peculiar political situation of the time and never before noticed (Calvani, 2010). Nevertheless, due to the bias still attached to translation, the translator's authority over the text is scarcely considered at all, so that what expressed in translation is usually referred to the original author, taking for granted the perfect equivalence between original and translation. It could seem to be a paradox, but actually the translator lives the peculiar situation of speaking without being responsible for what he says, his words usually being considered the very words of the original author. On account of such peculiar situation, many authors published their works under cover of translation. The Italian writer Manzoni is a case in point; he published his Promessi Sposi as the translation of a fictitious Spanish original to exempt himself from any possible accusation about his book's content.

The question of authorship in writing has already been discussed by Bloom, who spoke about the "anxiety of influence" (Bloom, 1997) expressed by the father-author in his quest for originality, free from other writers' influence. It could be argued that the same anxiety affected women authors, nevertheless, I would argue that this was not the case. In fact, in literary creation, influence is usually attributed to male authors. This is not surprising due to the rarity of women writers before the nineteenth century and it is interestingly linked to what Gilbert and Gubar noticed about women's writings, in their opinion characterized by an "anxiety of authorship--a radical fear that she cannot create, that, because she can never become a 'precursor,' the act of writing will isolate or destroy her" (1979: 49). As a matter of fact, the absence of women authors to refer to ratified the condition of extraneousness with respect to that literary world which they wished to be part of. Bloom's as well as Gilbert and Gubar's considerations about writing and authorship appear to be particularly important if linked to the question of woman translators. The necessity to refer to someone and the absence of women authors could have encouraged women to translate. In fact, what is translation, if not a particular form of writing in which the author-translator refers to the authority of another author who wrote in a different language? On account of what Gilbert and Gubar referred to as anxiety of authorship, the original author could represent a perfect point of reference for women writers assuming the absence of female references, while that very anxiety of influence which tormented male authors granted to women the chance to write, translation being alleged "non-original" inasmuch it is a second-hand work whose fatherhood is not perceived as threatened by the translator's presence, assuming the translator's faithfulness. But the connection between translation and authorship shows other interesting points of analysis. Referring to another author is usually a common way of giving authority to what an author says; it is what we call a quotation. I think it is thus possible to assume that to translate, referring to that anxiety of authorship we were talking about in reference to women, could be considered a sort of quotation, a particular kind of device used by women authors to give authority to what they say. But what happens if the quotation is not exactly accurate? Not to quote the same words of the author we refer to could be considered a sort of threat to the authority of that very author and usurpation of authorship (Gossy 1998: 13).

Without considering translation errors, it is important to stress that what has been considered the author's original text written in another language is actually that very text interpreted by another writer, the translator. As translation analysis reveals, translation creates difference and the presence of the filter (the translator) must always be recognized. It could be argued that women translators, protected by that very appearance of quotation that gave them the opportunity of writing, threatened the notion of authorship, rewriting what male authors wrote. The supposed non-originality of translation allowed them to do it and only an attentive analysis of the translated text could reveal their voice. The question of unfaithfulness in translation has already been connected with women, as the famous metaphor of les belles infidéles testifies. To express the severe condemnation of the very possibility of unfaithfulness in translation, the concept has been linked to a comparable sinful action: the unfaithfulness of a woman. The moral judgement implicit in the metaphor points out and reveals what should be the right translation, the faithful one, whatever this would mean.

Lori Chamberlain2 reveals how translation metaphors are the reflection of a peculiar ideology. Particularly the idea of translation as derived, and thus inferior, work is the reflection of that ideology which places the masculine as a creator and first in contrast to the feminine, derived and therefore second. For a translation to be beautiful it must be unfaithful. It is again the anxiety of influence which stands out from such metaphor, the necessity of ascertaining the offspring, a necessity which has to be protected by condemning any possible "deviation" from the original work.

Even if the literary system pretends not to see the translator presence, the "passage" from one language to another does not occur in a laboratory, in a sterile environment. As Lefevere3 noted, there are many elements acting in the literary system, elements which can contribute to the creation of a particular literary work. Through translation, the picture of a specific period in history is captured and stored: political context, education, everything emerges from those pages. If it is true that translation grows old, as a matter of fact this is just another reason to study it and discover what characterizes that translation compared to others of the same text.

Taking translation texts into due consideration could shed light on the process of interpretation and over the various reasons that lead translators to rewrite a particular text; the knowledge of a foreign author and her/his reception depends also on translation and the translator can influence that very reception. Due to the impressive presence of women translators and considering the absence of women's literary works, women's translations offers a great opportunity to better understand woman translators.

In this connection, the case history of Giustina Renier Michiel could be of interest.

First of all, I will analyze her work in the Italian context, showing the bias connected with the comments expressed on her work. Secondly, I will consider her general preface, where it is possible to retrace her translation process . Finally, I will consider her single prefaces and translations in the light of her translation project.

Giustina Renier Michiel, her work in context: charges under consideration

It could be probably astonishing to realize that William Shakespeare was more or less a complete unknown in Italy at least until the nineteenth century. It is possible to find a passing reference to him in the eighteenth century made by Italian men of letters such as Conti, Algarotti or Goldoni, who particularly refer to Shakespeare, Sachespir4, in two of his comedies, Il Filosofo Inglese and I Malcontenti; it is the case of few scholars though, who happened to attend some performances of his plays while travelling in England. Furthermore, it is important to stress the particular situation of the eighteenth century Italian culture, where the reception of the English dramatist was already compromised by the scarcely flattering comments expressed about him by Voltaire, who exerted a great influence at that time over Italian scholars. The first Italian translations of three Shakespearian plays made their appearance in such a context. It was in 1798 when Othello, Macbeth and Coriolanus were published in Italian and it was thanks to a woman, Giustina Renier Michiel.

No information regarding the reception of her work is available today, yet her translations must have had some circulation , since they were republished in 1801. It could be argued that for years her work passed completely unnoticed--an astonishing silence, I would say, especially if compared with the relative popularity given to her name by the publication of another work, Origine delle Feste Veneziane, this one not a translation, which biographers prefer to refer to.

A glimpse of light could be caught by reading one of her biographers' comments about her translations, written in 1890. It is Vittorio Malamani5 who devotes only a few pages to them and actually his comments are not very flattering. First, he accuses her of being a translator of the translators of Shakespeare, secondly of publishing a work not of her own.

Shakespeare had become popular by that time in Italy, and translations of his plays were not difficult to find. Scholars seem to compete publishing new, more accurate translations. It must be noticed that, simultaneously with such a growing interest for the English dramatist, we witness the disappearance of woman translators of his plays for more than a century. In fact, it is only in 1924 that it is possible to find other Italian women translators of Shakespeare, as if the growing importance of the author had automatically prevented women from studying him. It is not an absurd assumption. Women could afford to translate only because of the lower status translation had in comparison to original writing, but, in the presence of a classical author, even translation assumes a greater importance. It is the case of translation from Latin and Greek (whose knowledge was considered the very foundation of culture and whose study was reserved to men only) to almost consider a woman who studied those languages a "phenomenon" (Agorni, 2002: 80) and "a wonder for a woman of all times" (Avancini, 1925: 7). I think that in the atmosphere of deeming women unsuited to creating great literary works, the translations of Giustina Renier were condemned without a fair trial.

As a matter of fact, women were not as well educated as men. Furthermore, the absence of comments about those translations contributed to casting a shadow on them, particularly because there are plenty of comments on her "original" writing. Taking for granted that a perfect translation does not exist, what must be stressed here is the prejudice at the basis of these comments, - prejudice that still seems to be attached to these translations. To further explore this point let us analyze the comments expressed about them by the most critical of her biographers. First of all, in his book Vittorio Malamani speaks about "abridgements." Secondly, he seems to be persuaded that these translations are not Giustina Renier's work, which could not be sufficiently learned, an accusation that has been addressed to her even more recently6. Particularly Malamani (1890: 49) seems to be certain of Cesarotti's presence in Renier's translations, which, he says, corrected them all and he goes so far as to suggest Renier didn't sign her work because "her conscience forbade her to sign works that were not completely her own." (my translation). But Malamani's assumptions seem to be of particular interest when it comes to quoting a passage of Renier's preface; he says:

"Unfortunately, it is exactly in this preface, more than anywhere else, that it is possible to recognize the hand of Cesarotti, some long passages are undoubtedly his own work. For example, the page on which the author explains the reason for the work has a distinct Cesarotti flavor. Judge for yourself: 'Tenderness and admiration have always joined together the famous poet and the fair sex. Shakespeare loved it with enthusiasm, and Shakespeare could really feel the love he described so well'." (my translation)

As a matter of fact, Cesarotti was a friend of Renier. He was a scholar and read her translations, as is confirmed by their correspondence, but it does not mean he rewrote them. Actually it was precisely Cesarotti who insisted, in one of his letters, to persuade Giustina Renier to change something in one of her translations, making it clear that she did not like to use someone else's material and trying to make her make an exception to this rule, which she actually did not do7. But there is more evidence of Malamani's bias about her translations and it is his very aforementioned statement which points it out. Proceeding to a comparison of the quoted sentence of "Cesarotti flavor" with Le Tourneur's introduction to his French translations, it is quite embarrassing to note that Giustina Renier actually used the same words of the French translator.8 This does not acquit her of the charge of being a translator of translators, but at least it reveals one of her true sources, a source that she was the first one to declare and to thank precisely in her translator's preface.

It could be argued that Malamani's comment about Giustina Renier's translations was too superficial; his prejudice prevented him from an attentive analysis of the texts, if he had ever tried to do one. This is evident from the very beginning of his comment, where he talks about "abridgements," which is simply false. In fact the analysis of the translated texts proves them to be translations and it is just the identification of the aforesaid sentence in the French and Italian text that shows quite clearly the translator's strategy in this matter.

General Preface: the translator's project

As for the alleged sentence of Cesarotti, Renier created a collage sort of preface. From the comparison of the French and Italian texts it is quite evident that she prefaced her work just copying and pasting sentences taken from different parts of the French introduction, the Discours des Préfaces, Jubilé and Vie de Shakespeare. Despite this evidence for the prosecution, it is still possible to acquit her, since intertwined with Le Tourneur words, her own words also emerge from the pages, the recollection of which gives us a sort of a map of her translation project, of what she intended to do in translating these particular plays.

In the first of her own sentences she says: "It is hardly surprising, that a Lady, reading in the tranquillity of her chamber and reflecting on Shakespeare, inspired by noble enthusiasm and a deep feeling of gratitude, would thus embark on the translation of his works" (Renier, 1801: 7) (my translation). She refers to the surprising effect created by her translation, exactly what readers should have felt in reading a woman's work. She knows her work will be received at least with suspicion, so she tries to justify herself. A woman could read, and precisely the hours spent in reading, she explains, led her to finally translate. She acknowledges the difficulty of what she is going to do and she apologizes again:

"Unfortunately, I know the importance, difficulties and dangers of such a great enterprise. Soul and wit are perhaps more essential to the accurate transportation of sentiment and taste from one language to another than the ability to write philosophical works. A sprightly and animated style covers and even embellishes the faults; whereas a languid and cold one makes the grace itself vanish. It is better to permit all the enthusiasm of the poets to affect the style (even if slightly slovenly), than to give it a lifeless flavor as a concession to scrupulous accuracy. A cold translation, said the famous Brumuy, is like a wax portrait, it resembles, it is true, but everything is cold, everything is dead. So he teaches us it is better to take the middle between excessively strict faithfulness which wears out, and excessive liberty which falsifies; most of all, it is necessary to strive to make the Authors speak in the language into which they are translated, as they would speak themselves, if they wanted to communicate their ideas in that language," (Renier, 1801: 8). (my translation)

She proves to be knowledgeable about the topics under discussion at that time. In the perennial question of literal vs. free translation, she expressed, under the cover of quotation, her opinion in favor of a reasonably literal translation. As a woman scholar and writer, she knows her opinion not to be held in great esteem on account of the bias usually attached to women, all the more reason not to express her point of view in the first person, but to quote a French scholar, Brumuy, relying on his authority. It being understood that this is a dilemma that has been discussed for ages by scholars and translators and that it is still in doubt what this should exactly mean, it proves at least that she did not translate without any knowledge of the theoretical problems at issue. Particularly it could be noticed that what she said about "lifeless translation" echoed what Foscolo, a frequent guest at her literary salon, and Cesarotti were saying about translation at that time.9 Once she made her readers aware of what she thinks to be a "good" translation, she continues self-justifying:

"Even though I know that such rules are right, and that it is difficult to put them into practice, I cannot resist the feeling which forces me to translate the famous English Dramatist. I'll try, to the degree I'm able to, to follow these rules, and not to defraud my readers of some peculiar sentences, which, to comply with the spirit of our language , I have to leave out in translation, I'll quote them at the end of the Tragedy in the exact verbal version. Furthermore I will add some notes, for the most part made by Mr Le Tourneur, who, with great merit, translated all the literary works of Shakespeare into the French language, and who has provided me with nearly all the means to make this author better known in Italy," (Renier, 1801: 8-9). (my translation)

She admits the great difficulty of her work, and almost stimulating her readers' benevolence in saying she will try to do her best, she finally states exactly the strategy she adopted in translating: she tried to be "faithful" to the original, but she was sometimes obligated not to translate something, due to differences between English and Italian. When that happened, she explained, she would report the eliminated sentences in a note, which she did. Moreover, she states that she added notes to the text, most of them taken from Le Tourneur, whose translations she says she herself used to make Shakespeare better known in Italy.

As a matter of fact, even if the evidence of using French material could testify against her, she actually did exactly what she had stated in the preface she would do, use Le Tourneur's material and add her own considerations together with comments of other scholars. In fact, as a woman translator, she knows she has to overcome the prejudice naturally attached to her work, so again she explains and gives reasons, this time stating clearly that what could be allowed to a man is not permitted to a woman. In her words, she says:

"Presenting to my Nation a series of translations which somehow could be called a Theatre course, I would have been inclined to begin this general preface by putting my own comments about the feelings aroused by dramatic performances, to analyze the feeling prevailing in each Tragedy later in the individual prefaces . This may be the only topic a woman can discuss without fear of accusations by men. But I could not have done it justice without discussing what a lot of celebrated literary men had already written about it," (Renier, 1801: 9-10). (my translation)

She says she wrote a general introduction, with specific introductions to the individual plays, where she presents her personal thinking about them and the feelings they aroused, specifying that to talk about feelings was maybe the only thing allowed to a woman. Later she adds that she could not have done it right without studying what scholars had written about them, pointing out her distressing situation. She states that she did not use only Le Tourneur's version, but in order to do a good job she studied what English scholars had written about them, as evidenced by the many quotations in her notes. It is important to point out again her emphasis on the efforts she made to do a good job. As a woman, she was not supposed to be a scholar, so that she finds herself in the very peculiar situation of excusing herself for having published something which she felt compelled to demonstrate she had the right to publish. Having assured her readers of her having studied the author, she says she added her own comments to those of the English scholars.10

At this point, her translation strategy has been clearly stated, and her modus operandi appears to be demonstrated. What we need now is a clear indication of motives, an answer to one question: why did she decid to translate, and in fact she concludes by answering this question. She explains:

"An almost general custom in Italy is to deny Mothers the most precious gift, which is their Daughters' education, which leaves them nothing but the sweet title of Mother. So the sensitive readers will bestow on me some indulgency, if not having a part in the education of my tender daughters, I prepare for them a reading, which can, whenever possible, give them joy and instruction, contributing to their happiness and moderating their growing passion with examples" (Renier, 1801: 24). (my translation)

What seems not to be a particularly remarkable statement reveals its importance at a closer reading. It is not only her love for Shakespeare's plays that drove her to translation, but the concern for her daughters' education, particularly interesting because expressed by a woman. Due to the strict social habits of the time, she could not educate her daughters herself,11 so she decided to overcome this obstacle by giving them something to read that could be amusing as well as educational.

As a matter of fact in view of this motive, it is possible to consider her complete work, her translation strategies, but most of all her selection of what to translate. Whether she translated from the French version, as alleged by some, or she merely used it as a useful tool for her work, as she stated, it is a fact that Le Tourneur translated the complete works of Shakespeare, while Giustina Renier translated only three plays, particularly the ones contained in Le Tourneur's first and third volume, excluding Julius Caesar and The Tempest. I do not believe her choice to be motivated by the Venetian setting in Othello and the Roman context in Coriolanus, as Crinò12 suggested, and at any rate, if this is the case, there should be no reason for the choice of Macbeth other than her particular preference. Actually, considering her concern about her daughters' education, I cannot but connect such a selection with educational motives. Particularly, it is interesting to notice the presence in all these plays of very strong female characters. Desdemona in Othello is of course the victim, but she is also a protagonist during the play. She is young and beautiful but she is also very strong. She knows what she wants and in order to get it she makes a choice. This choice will prove her to be strong, but at the same time will part her with her father protection and undermine his trust in her innocence. Lady Macbeth too is a very strong woman who chooses her destiny. She wants her husband to be king and in order to get what she wants she is ready to do anything. Again her ruin is born exactly in the moment she makes her choice. Finally, as for Volumnia, an old woman this time and a mother, she wants her son to be consul but her choices will be finally the ruin not of herself, this time, but of her beloved Coriolanus. It is possible to assume, even by the order of the presentation of the plays, that Giustina Renier's main concern for education made her choose these particular plays, offering to young women the image of a woman's life, from youth till maturity. Particularly the image she offers is the one of very strong women, who possess such usually male qualities as courage and boldness, but whose decisions drive them to their ruin. It is important to stress that the image she seems to propose is not different from the one offered by other women, like Mary Wollestonecraft, whose main concern was for women's education, too, and who did not offer a utopian rebellious woman as a model but rather a more cautious one, who has to choose wisely especially about a wedding, precondition to her subsistence.13 So, with the evidence of her own statements about education, her concern about the educational usefulness of theatrical representations, joined with the attention she dedicated to the study of scholars' comments and finally of her very selection of the plays to translate, it is possible to state that she translated with a specific educational concern in mind, a concern I shall retrace in her individual prefaces and translations.

Individual prefaces and translation analysis

With her motives explained in the general preface, the reader can now understand better the individual prefaces to the plays and translations. As she said in the general introduction, she wrote a preface to every single play, quoting the Shakespearian source for Othello and Macbeth, first difference from Le Tourneur's version, who quoted Giraldi Cinthio only for the first one. The individual prefaces are very interesting, since they reveal the translator's critical perspective and analysis of the plays which prompted her translation project. Furthermore, it is possible to read into these texts that sort of "finding a voice" process that has been talked about by many translators. In fact, if in the prefaces to Othello and Macbeth she still adheres to the French translator's considerations, mixed up with her owns, in Coriolanus she finally seems to have found her "voice," as it appears from both the preface and the translation. The first sense of insecurity clearly visible in her adherence to the French translator in Othello, gave place to a sort of probation in Macbeth and finally totally disappears in Coriolanus, in a sort of materialization of that particular process described by many translators where a translator through the reading of his author starts to harmonize his peculiar tone with the one of his writer, to finally find his voice.14 Particularly, in the preface to Othello, after a brief comment, Renier proceeds to report some considerations of English scholars about the play, the very ones referred to by Le Tourneur. Most of the preface turns out to be formed by other scholars' comments, while only the first and final comments are her own. It is remarkable to notice that her first personal consideration is about love. She insists on the importance of love and marriage but also on the necessity of moderation. If it is not possible and not advisable to eliminate love from life; the theatrical representation must teach us how control it. Her choice of words like "insegnare" (to teach) and "istruttivo" (instructive) (Renier, 1801: 40), referring to Othello's character, seems to show again her concern for education. Her final remarks are also interesting. Having reported "Adisson" (Renier, 1801: 41) and Johnson's comments, as Le Tourneur had done in French, she proceeds to compare Giraldi Cinthio's novel with the Shakespearian Othello. She ascribes her remarks to Le Tourneur, but actually there is no trace of such remarks in his volume of 1776. Particularly she seems to be concerned about the reception of this play by the Italian public. As I have already explained, Shakespeare was quite unknown in Italy at the time and to the degree he was known, it was from the critical comments by Voltaire. Her last remark seems to be just a reflection of the Italian context and her worries about Voltaire's influence on it. In fact, after referring to Johnson's comment about the play, whose beauty goes beyond the critical analysis, she speaks about Voltaire. She states that Voltaire, notwithstanding all his "contempt" (Renier, 1801: 49) for the English dramatist, took the subject of his Zaira from Othello, offloading in part her responsibilities in such a statement through a note where she quotes a few English verses referring to the topic. While Voltaire's character does not teach anything new about jealousy, she says, Othello gives a very instructive lesson about what must be avoided in a marriage, stressing again the importance she attached to marriage in women's life and her concern for the educative task of theatre.

The preface to Macbeth still shows the translator's hesitation to clearly express herself, as appears from its very beginning, an extract of a Le Tourneur consideration taken from his notes. But her own voice starts to be heard soon thereafter when, having eliminated Le Tourneur's analysis of passions, she finally gets to talk about superstition, a subject she seems to be particularly concerned about and which reveals her to be an eighteenth century woman. She condemns superstition and its use in poetry, but does not blame Shakespeare for it in consideration of the "barbarous" times in which he lived and the common "stupidity" of his public.15

It is important to note that in the preface to Coriolanus, I was unable to find any of Le Tourneur's comments. This particular preface is very interesting because of the remarks expressed about the tragedy. As she did previously, in the preface Renier stresses what she finds to be the instructive part of the play. Speaking always under cover of some scholar, she argues that Othello's moral lesson resides in the display of immoderate passion, while Macbeth's lesson lies in superstitious belief. However, when she comes to Coriolanus, she seems to be somewhat puzzled about the moral teaching of the play and she expresses her doubts about the character. She says:

"Before crying we want to be persuaded, that the sufferer did not contribute with his mistakes, and his vices to his own misfortunes, and that, in fact on the contrary, he has those merits and virtues which deserve our affection and esteem. Therefore Coriolanus's character seems not to be dramatic enough." (Renier, 1801: 6-7) (my translation)

Furthermore, specifically speaking about the conclusion of the play, she could not but blame it, particularly because what could be considered an act of mercy is actually a betrayal on the part of Volscians, most regrettable because caused by his obedience to his mother. Obviously she could quote some scholar's remarks about the play or stress its Latin origin, as Le Tourneur did, but as stated in her "translation project," she was not interested in a display of erudition; her main concern is about her daughters' education. In spite of her perplexity about the play's moral teaching, she wants it to be read, probably just to stress the importance of mothers' educational role, her own role, in personal and civic life. What is evident in these remarks is again her educational concern, particularly clear in her attention to mother and son's behavior16 .

About the translations, the first important thing to notice is the difference in the numbering of the acts and scenes of the plays from the one of Le Tourneur's texts. As is confirmed by the translation itself, which presents differences in cuttings, quotations and notes, the translator used at least one but probably more English texts of the plays, each time comparing the originals with the French versions and choosing which one to follow according to her particular feeling about each passage. A case in point is offered by the third act of Othello where the eleventh scene starts two lines after the one of Le Tourneur (Renier 1801: 211; Le Tourneur 1776: 156) or the twelfth scene of the same act (Renier 1801: 215), the thirteenth in Le Tourneur version (Le Tourneur 1776: 161). It is worth noting that quite often Renier refers to English scholars whose names I did not find in the French text, always favoring the English source which Le Tourneur had used without mentioning the English author. It is what happened in Renier's note 2 (Renier 1801: 295), where she mentions Johnson and "Tiirwhitt" in the comment. Actually, in the corresponding line of Le Tourneur, it is possible to find a note, but the translator restricted himself to stating that he had followed the Oxford edition for the passage in question (Le Tourneur 1776: 4), whereas he had usually used the Johnson edition. It could be argued that Renier used Johnson's edition as she mentions him in her note, not mentioning the Oxford's edition at all. Renier seems to proceed comparing the English and French texts. It is thus possible to explain the difference in references. In the comparison she found out all the notes Le Tourneur had taken from the English scholars, without clearly stating it. It is the case of Renier's note 10 and Le Tourneur's corresponding note (Renier 1801: 299; Le Tourneur 1776: 33). It is the eighth scene of the first act. Othello remembers how Desdemona had been impressed by the narration of his adventurous life. Particularly, in reference to cannibals, Le Tourneur adds in a note that such stories had been told by Mandeville, as Johnson reported. Renier has a note in the corresponding passage, but in addition to Mandeville she quotes Warburton and Johnson's comments, partly reported by Le Tourneur in his following note without however mentioning the authors' name. In connection with her educational concerns, it is also important to stress the absence of many of Le Tourneur's references to racial attitudes. In particular Renier eliminates Le Tourneur's note on the inconstancy of the Moors (Le Tourneur 1776: 46) and modifies the French explanation about Desdemona's lack of "repulsion" by Othello's blackness, whose reciprocal love, in her opinion, explains enough (Renier 1801: 299-300, 315; Le Tourneur 1776: 35-36). Furthermore, Renier eliminates a tirade against Hebrews, for whom Shakespeare, in Le Tourneur's opinion, felt a strong dislike for (Le Tourneur 1776: 265-266). In order to accomplish her educational task, she cuts those passages she thought to be too vulgar and not suited to her readers, but always declaring it in notes, another important difference from le Tourneur. Moreover, she simplifies the wordy sentences of Le Tourneur, usually substituting the French pronouns with the proper noun, obviously for her need for clarity. For the same reason she seems to prefer to literally translate or to quote the original whenever she departs from it. She cuts or simplifies all the stage directions, very detailed in Le Tourneur, confirming that her translation was not conceived to be performed. Finally she reinstates Desdemona's lines in the fifth act, cut by Le Tourneur. The French translator explains he eliminated those lines for reasons of plausibility, but Renier does not want to give up the pathetic effect of the dying Desdemona's last sentences (Renier 1801: 318; Le Tourneur 1776: 246).

As far as the translation of Macbeth is concerned, it is possible to repeat most of the remarks already expressed for that of Othello. Preceded by the quotation of Holinshed Chronicles, absent in Le Tourneur's text, translation of Macbeth presents a difference in the numbering of the acts and scenes in comparison with the French version. Concerned about "decency," she does not translate the word "efféminé," used by Le Tourneur, as already did in her Othello. She recurs more often than Le Tourneur to the term "macchina" (machine) for "body," relating to that culture of the Enlightenment so present to her (Renier 1801: 171; Le Tourneur 1776: 398). Besides, she reinserted a few lines about marriage in the fifth act, cut by Le Tourneur, while she eliminated the porter's lines, as Le Tourneur did, explaining in a note that "my readers are not like those rude English people of Shakespeare's time, and they would read a porter's concepts and his reasoning about wine reluctantly." (Renier 1801: 218) (my translation)

The notes are also interesting. A special notice must be reserved to the presence of Lady Montagu's name, particularly in consideration of her being completely ignored by Le Tourneur and most of all considering her concern about women, as she was a so-called "bluestocking." Such a presence could be a further confirmation of her interest in women's education and could also prove her knowledge of the "bluestocking's" writings about it. On the whole, this translation is marked by a less overwhelming presence of Le Tourneur and a higher fluency due to her greater autonomy as regards the French translation.

As far as the translation of Coriolanus is concerned, the self-confidence displayed in the preface, with her departure from Le Tourneur's comments, even expressing her perplexity about the dramatic stature of the main character, is mirrored in the translation. The probation on which she was in Macbeth, turned out to be absolute freedom in Coriolanus, evident in the absence of Le Tourneur's quotations and remarks in favor of quotations from the original Latin source. The presence of Plutarch's quotations has been used again as evidence of her not being the author of the translations. As a matter of fact, Giustina Renier did not study Latin or Greek, so it was easy for her detractors to accuse her, but actually it is again Renier herself who explained such alleged incoherence, stating in one of her notes that she had read Plutarch in Pompei's translation, choosing to substitute Coriolanus's discourse with the original one she had read in translation (Renier, 1801: 294). In this translation as well she cuts different passages for not being in keeping with her taste and that of her readers (Renier 1801: 293-294). As in her other translations, she simplifies the stage directions and the French sentences, sometimes even condensing lines (Renier 1801: 59; Le Tourneur 1776: 29). It is clear that she follows as usual the original in the numbering of acts and scenes, not in accordance with Le Tourneur. Sometimes the very attribution of the lines to the characters is different (Renier 1801: 50; Le Tourneur 1776: 20). Le Tourneur had already informed his readers of possible contradictions in the dialogues, due to errors or additions of the actors. In confirmation of the attention she paid to her text, she changes the name which labels the lines of the main character from "Marcius" to "Corio" soon after he assumes such an honorary title. In relation to her aversion for superstitious beliefs, she translates the French expression "Oh Dieux," with "Oh Cielo" (oh Heaven) and prefers to use "cittadini" (citizens) for the "Romains" of the French version. Finally, again this is a consideration which points out her concern for the mother's role. In note 33, she expresses her regret at Shakespeare not having made his Coriolanus remember his children. She explains that "the separation from them would have been a situation which could increase compassion. The most natural reflection of a mother as I am." (Renier 1801: 195) (my translation).

In consideration of what has been said, a revaluation of her works seems to be absolutely necessary, not only because they are the first step towards better understanding of Shakespeare in Italy, but also because of what they could reveal of a literary woman's life and concerns at that time. It is always difficult to give an assessment to a translation; Berman17 suggested not to consider the individual translated passages but rather to evaluate the translated text in accordance to its adherence to the translator's project, always retraceable in the paratext. As far as Giustina Renier's translations are concerned, in consideration of that educational motive which seems to be her main reason for translating, it could be finally argued that they have fulfilled their intended purpose.



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1 D. Robinson (1995), Theorizing Translation in a Woman's Voice, in The Translator 1.2.

2 Chamberlain, Lori (1992) Gender and the metaphorics of translation, in L. Venuti, Rethinking translation: Discourse Subjectivity Ideology, London: Routledge.

3 Lefevere, André (1992), Translating Literature, The Modern Language Association of America.

4 In principio fu Sachespir (1964), in Sipario, Rivista di teatro scenografia cinema, 6 (218).

5 Malamani, Vittorio (1890), Giustina Renier Michiel, I suoi amici il suo tempo, Venezia: coi tipi dei fratelli Visentini.

6 In fact Crinò (1950: 93) says: "It is of general opinion that Cesarotti worked a lot on correcting those translations, and his collaboration seems to be particularly evident in the preface and in the numerous notes, which display too great a classical education, erudition, to be ascribed to Giustina Renier Michiel." (my translation)

7 Cesarotti (1884: 27) in one of his letters to Giustina Renier, January 1802, wrote: "This I say because I know thou told me not to love using others' things. But am I other or thyself?." (my translation)

8 "Une tendresse, une admiration réciproque ont toujours uni le Poete & les Belles", (Le Tourneur, 1776: 29) and "Il aima le beau sexe avec transport, & Shakespeare pouvait seul sentir l'amour que Shakespeare a peint", (1776: 30).

9 In fact, Cesarotti (1826: 239, 244) said: "the cold uniformity, the affected Platonism, the lack of ideas took possession of the style; the most graceful coloring, worn down and unconscious due to the excessive utilization, lost freshness and grace, and finally the inanimate copies become fed up with the original itself", or "others will keep the colour of the ancient time, but in their works thou find features resembling men alive, and not masks of corpses." (my translation)

10 "So I cannot relieve from somehow making the particular merit of Shakespeare known; and to make my readers better enjoy his Work, I think useful to put before, along the lines follow'd by Le Tourneur, the opinion which has been form'd of him by the greatest men of England. Yes in this, as in all the other Prefaces, I will add to others' reflections those of my own, encouraged by the study I undertook on this author to discuss it", (Renier, 1801: 10) (my translation).

11 See Duby and Perrot (2002), Storia delle donne, Bari: Editori Laterza.

12 Crinò, Anna Maria (1950), Le Traduzioni Di Shakespeare, Roma: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura.

13 See Mellor, Anne K. (1993), Romanticism and Gender, New York: Routledge.

14 See Bassnett, Susan and Bush, Peter (2006), The Translator as Writer, Continuum.

15 See Giustina Renier, 1801:12, 14,15.

16 "Coriolanus deserved to be punished for his fury of revenge, his implacable hatred of his Country: Coriolanus instead is sacrificed by his mercy, he doesn't meet a fatal end because of what made him detestable, but as a consequence of that action which regained him the love of human and sensitive hearts. If he had been resolute in his first resolution, he would be alive and triumphant. That's how the moral lesson has been spoiled, and the Tragic interest ruined.", (Renier, 1801: 12, 14--15) (my translation).

17 Berman, Antoine (1995), Pour une critique des traductions: John Donne, Paris : Gallimard.