Paralinguistic Translation in Sarah Kane's Phaedra's Love

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter in a book


It is somewhat unconventional to talk about the work of Sarah Kane in terms of translation. In fact, Kane is far more commonly spoken of through entirely contradictory terminology; not as a writer who translates, adapts or reworks other scripts and stories but as an innovative force in late twentieth-century dramaturgy, a voice of post-Thatcherism, and a pioneer of the so-called ‘in-yer-face’ school of theatre. This, however, has much more to do with the myth of the Kane persona rather than the actual facts pertaining to her body of work. For example, one of Kane’s five scripts for the theatre is a reworking of Seneca’s Phaedra, and she was also under commission to write a Medea for Sphinx Theatre at the time of her death. Furthermore, Kane’s two professional directing credits are both related to translation; she directed her own Phaedra’s Love for the Gate Theatre in Notting Hill in 1996, and Woyzeck for the same theatre in 1997.

Translation is clearly a neglected theme in Kane’s work, and this chapter seeks to rectify this by exploring how Kane reworked Seneca’s Phaedra in the 1996 première production of Phaedra’s Love. I suggest that viewing the relationship between these two plays as a form of translation is key to understanding what Kane was trying to achieve, and I consequently consider the ways in which Kane linguistically translated Seneca’s tragedy. In particular, I concentrate on Kane’s paralinguistic translation of Phaedra, which I take to refer to the translation of the themes, images, and even issues to do with the performance context and reception history of a work into other elements of the theatrical experience.

The chapter begins with a consideration of why the play is not usually considered in dialogue with its Latin source text, following which I illuminate the various signals that Kane has given to indicate that the two should be viewed together. From this point I proceed to discuss the type of superficial linguistic transposition that has taken place. The remainder of the chapter explores Kane’s translation of the non-linguistic elements of Seneca’s tragedy. I argue that Phaedra’s Love is imbued with aspects from Phaedra’s performance context—or lack of it—in antiquity, as well as the core Senecan themes of masculinity, sexuality, violence, and voyeurism, and the reception of Senecan tragedy in not only Jacobean and Elizabethan England, but also Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty. This creates a complex dialogue between the two plays and layers the potential meanings inherent within Kane’s work. I conclude by suggesting that exploring the paralinguistic ways in which adaptations translate canonical texts facilitates an important discourse about translation in experimental theatre, and gives us a framework through which we can more successfully consider what the work of Kane and later theatrical innovators can tell us about the act of translation and the source texts they rework.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAdapting Translation for the Stage
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Publication series

NameAdvances in Theatre and Performance Studies


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