The Hugos and the Translation of Shakespeare into French, Texts and Cultural and Historical Contexts

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Department of English, NTNU


Shakespeare did not go easily into French. Voltaire was ambivalent about him as he helped to introduce him into France, especially when he was in exile in England, but he also had reservations about Shakespeare not being neo-classical or, to put it another way, "barbaric." This neo-classical ambivalence also occurred among the English during the Restoration, after 1660, when Charles II returned from France to England and was restored to the throne. John Dryden and Alexander Pope, for instance, were ambivalent about Shakespeare. With Romanticism, Shakespeare became more popular in France, and Victor Hugo and his son, François-Victor Hugo, were instrumental in establishing Shakespeare in France, with the father, the great writer, lending a preface to his son's work and the son undertaking the work of translating Shakespeare systematically in 18 volumes. This article will focus most on the father's preface in the first volume and on the son's translations of the Sonnets in volume 15. The reason for this choice and method is that the pioneering work in the first phases of literary translation needs close examination, what I call the establishment of translation or reputation.