The Merry Wives of Windsor has long been compared to a great babel of languages. The play contains a smattering of Spanish, Italian and Dutch and even a whole scene dedicated to the mistranslation of Latin. A large part of the play’s humour also heavily relies on the foreign accents of two characters: the French Doctor Caius and the Welsh parson Sir Hugh Evans. If Christopher Luscombe’s 2008/2010 production of The Merry Wives at Shakespeare’s Globe theatre in London bears testimony to the success of cross-language and accent-based comedy as a source of laughter on today’s English stage, it seems rather implausible, at first sight, that French translations, adaptations and stagings of these accents and linguistic idiosyncrasies should be greeted with the same degree of hilarity. Indeed, how should the Welsh and French accents, both representing real stumbling blocks for French-speaking translators of the play, be transposed into French? What translation strategies can the latter devise? And to what extent can some of those strategies be said to be politically correct? Focusing on Shakespeare’s ‘favorite’ (predominant) accents and the significance and impact of such linguistic comedy, I shall examine the question of their problematic translation through the analysis and comparison of a number of translations and stagings of The Merry Wives of Windsor into French.
multilingualism, cross-language comedy, (un)translatability, national stereotypes, stage dialects, foreignness
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