London, Asharq Al-Awsat—A new translation of Shakespearean sonnets into Arabic has been published by the “Kalima” project in Abu Dhabi—no small feat, given the difficulties of translating language as rich as Shakespeare’s.
Dr. Abul-Wahid Lo’lo’ah, the lead translator on the project, stressed to Asharq Al-Awsat that part of the art of translating the sonnets into Arabic was to adapt not only the language, but also the cultural context and meaning.
However, he chose to accompany each Arabic sonnet with extensive explanations and interpretations of the piece, just one of many tactics used to interpret the fourteen-line poems for an Arabic-speaking audience. In writing his explanations, Lo’lo’ah relied on the scholarship of British critics specializing in Shakespearian literature, so as to preserve as much of Shakespeare’s voice and historical context as possible.
In writing the interpretive text, Lo’lo’ah also tried to introduce Shakespeare’s life and personality to the Arab world.
This is not the first time Shakespeare’s sonnets have been translated into Arabic, and Lo’lo’ah clearly admires the translators who came before him, in particular his late teacher Jabra Ibrahim Jabra. Jabra felt that translations of such intricate text required “elaborate explanations and academic analyses that kill the poetry within,” and while Lo’lo’ah clearly felt the need to include explanations of the sonnets, it is also clear that he does not feel this ruined the effect of the translations.
While Lo’lo’ah acknowledges the talent and dedication required to translate Shakespeare into Arabic, he has also criticized many of the approaches taken by other translators—especially those who ignore the sonnets’ linguistic and historical context.
Praising his teacher’s translation, Lo’lo’ah says: “Its phrases are elegant and the meaning is explained precisely.” But he still criticizes Jabra’s elaborate translation of long English sentences so as to make the sonnets comprehensible in Arabic while relying very little on explanatory text. He took the opposite approach to his teacher, preferring beautiful poetry in Arabic alongside lengthy footnotes explaining the original meaning.
He also noted that some previous translators had misunderstood the meaning of some English words in Shakespeare’s time: a “pen” used to be a painter’s quill, “brave” used to mean “beautiful,” and the word “modern” used to mean “cliché.”