Logos Multilingual Portal

11. Translation as "cloning": Vittorini, Montale, Quasimodo, Calvino and Ceronetti


b) The ‘bones’ of Shakespeare

The relationship between Montale and Shakespeare intervenes in the deep regions of the ‘ossified’ poetics of the Nobel Prize winner, for whom language is an invitation not to say, a refusal to understand, and a litany of the unlikely. His interest in Shakespeare lies precisely in this context: the concettism of the Elizabethan playwright, his attitude to release the meaning of words through the articulation of language; in short, for Montale, that objectless dialectic in which many saw the critical point of his personality, becomes a desperate surrealism whereby the soul loses feelings, voice and a sense of its own place in the world. Montale is not interested in the Shakespearean plot; what counts for him, and his approach to those texts, is the way in which feelings, growing in intensity through an uncontrolled linguistic elation, gradually take the place of those phenomena they intend to describe, splitting the ‘persona’ into a ‘linguistic’ mask and an exacerbated soul, up to the brutal outcome where the will aims to destroy the very centre of the self. Montale’s Hamlet is not a subtle thinker, but an aesthete of the fragment: lost in the dark of his own flawless logic, he can only find the phenomenon he wanted to describe, in the skull that Yorik – the jester, and juggler of language – placed before him in perpetual ridicule of his Baconian deductive power.

It was another ‘occasional’ poet, Salvatore Quasimodo, who brought the fertile fogs of the Bard to the Mediterranean world. In the Lirici Greci (Greek Lyrics) Quasimodo attempted an ingenious operation: to make the fragmentary nature of the texts an interpretative procedure, transcending the centuries to project on the ecstatic and nostalgic moments of Sappho and Alcaeus the systoles and diastoles of our lyrical awareness as moderns - which is always short-lived, broken up and unresolved. The solution as ‘pages of an interior diary’, and the narrative assumed in Quasimodo’s translation, raises the Greek Lyrics to a level of European collective consciousness.
His Shakespeare had to remain marked by it. In Richard III, the initial monologue opens the series of Shakespearean villains: rejected by nature in being deformed in body and mind, excluded from human society by bearing a stigma that gives a sense of despair to their gait among men, revealing their unredeemable fate, and nature’s indifference to human destinies, Shakepeare’s villains speak to themselves, unravelling their story with blinding logic, as Baconian proof of the truth that makes language the stage on which the mind deceives itself, falling prey to nature.
This is how Quasimodo renders the initial monologue of Richard III: "Ma io, che non ho grazia fisica per simili giochi e neppure per corteggiare un amoroso specchio, io che sono di rozzo conio, manco della forza regale dell'amore per girare lento davanti ad una molle, ancheggiante ninfa" ("But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks, Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass; I that am rudely stamped, and want love’s majesty, To strut before a wanton ambling nymph"); where the passionate impulse is degraded to a ray reflected in a mirror, to be reproduced as a image, more than a feeling, while that "ninfa ancheggiante" ("ambling nymph") has something of Hoffman’s dummy, disembodied of any seductive power, to become a mere symbol of the morbid drive that induces nature to reproduce itself.

The appropriation of Shakespeare as an ‘incunabulum of estrangement’, or a place for preparing the modern split between perception and reason, could not be more total.