La Bête or how to get Impressed by a Rhyming Translation.

Having to write my first post today is quite cool, because yesterday my classmates and I had the chance to go to the theatre to watch a play called La Bête. Written by David Hirson in 1999, La Bête is a parody of Molière’s works written in rhymed couplets of iambic pentameter.

We could go to its premiere in the TNC because our Translation teacher had translated the whole play. There are many translators who translate plays and poetry, but I can tell you I couldn’t believe my ears when I was hearing the dialogue. It was almost perfect. I mean, when you need to not only pass a message but make every sentence rhyme with the last one there are always weird words or weird structures, and I think that is perfectly normal; but I was listening really carefully during the whole play and nothing sounded wrong to me.

The translator –our teacher– told us about the translation and why did he translate the pentameter couplets into alexandrines instead of keeping the pentametric form. This has a very clear reason –Molière and other French dramaturges used to write in alexandrines, but their works were translated to English using pentameters (one clear example of that is the poet Richard Wilbur, who translated plays written by Racine, Corneille and Molière); however, when famous Catalan poets like Joan Oliver translated these plays to Catalan, they did conserve the alexandrine. It seems pretty clear, then, that this choice is a matter of tradition.

It is not my intention to write what I thought of the play here, I wanted to focus in the translation, but I have to say it was amazing. It had been delayed because the main actor (Anna Lizaran) was sick, and then another actor (Jordi Bosch) had to learn his part in three weeks. It’s a REALLY long part, and the couplets don’t give any option to improvise. I think every single person in the audience thought Jordi Bosch is not just an amazing actor; he is a beast in the best sense of the word. Nobody else could memorise a 30-minute monologue and play it the way he did it. Jordi Boixaderas and all the other actors performed really well too, including an actor student who had to play the part of the prince, which was supposed to be played by Abel Folk (who was sick and couldn’t act).

In conclusion, I am really grateful we had the chance to watch that play, because it was not just a good script –it was a good translation, good actors on scene, and a very good director. We really enjoyed it!

Thanks for reading,



One thought on “La Bête or how to get Impressed by a Rhyming Translation.

  1. Now I want to see the original and the translated version side to side so I can compare them.

    Another example of this that came to mind while I was reading this is South Park: The Movie. You may like or dislike the source material, but the translation is absolutely perfect and preserves almost every double-entendré the original had (I don’t mean the dirty ones, but the jabs at american society). Given that half the story is told through songs à la Disney, also taking into account the speed at which they speak in the original american dub, and on top of that the heavy (ab)use of idioms… it is astounding what the translators managed to do with the film.

    Doesn’t help that I love the show, though.

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