student profile: Miss Jennifer Nicholson


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Thesis work

Thesis title: 'Hamlet' at the Edge of English

Supervisors: Huw GRIFFITHS

Thesis abstract:


Shakespeare’s reputation for his use of the English language is strangely at odds with his multilingual range of source material. In my dissertation I conceptualize him as a translator from French to ‘French English’ in all three texts of Hamlet, comparing his language with that used in Michel de Montaigne’s Essais, François de Belleforest’s Amleth myth, and multilingual dictionaries from the era.

While Montaigne’s work was available to Shakespeare via John Florio’s 1603 translation, the influence of the original French text remains mostly absent from critical literary history, even though Hamlet was first performed at least two years prior to Florio’s translation. Hamlet draws not only from Renaissance philosophy shared by Shakespeare and Montaigne’s contemporaries, but from the latter’s use of the French language itself. Belleforest’s francophone version of Amleth’s tale influences both the language used and the narrative differences across the multiple ‘Hamlets’. The historical attribution of an ‘ur-Hamlet’ on London’s stage has perhaps limited this being considered as a true narrative source. I comment on French resonances in Shakespeare’s English, arguing that he had a working knowledge of French and that this influenced both the Quartos and Folio of Hamlet.

The play’s French iterations from the eighteenth century to the present are also significant. A translator’s anxiety about producing significant texts in another language stems from the concept of all art being untranslatable. All translation is inaccurate and, in Shakespeare’s case, even the individual texts are translations from mind to the stage or the page. This inaccuracy of translation complicates the multiplicity of meaning and knowing in Hamlet. The decision to examine French Hamlets specifically is not only to align with the discussions of Belleforest and Montaigne, but because of the non-codified status of both French and English in Shakespeare’s day. English is and was heavily influenced by the French language, and may contribute further to the possible relationships between French language sources and Shakespeare’s play.

Considering non-Anglophone reference material and linguistic choices allows me to discuss how these instabilities in the play are enhanced across multiple languages. Comparing these source texts and translations produces a narrative that suggests their written and published chronologies are connected, too. I propose that this case study allows the field of English literary studies to consider early modern languages beyond English and Latin. By commenting on both French source material and translations of the play, I consider the instability of meaning itself in Hamlet, both in and out of the fluid English in which Shakespeare wrote.

Selected publications

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Book Chapters

  • Nicholson, J. (2018). The Translation and Adaptation of Miyazaki's Spirit Princess in the West [forthcoming]. In Rayna Denison (Eds.), Princess Mononoke: Understanding Studio Ghibli's Monster Princess. London: Bloomsbury.

2018

  • Nicholson, J. (2018). The Translation and Adaptation of Miyazaki's Spirit Princess in the West [forthcoming]. In Rayna Denison (Eds.), Princess Mononoke: Understanding Studio Ghibli's Monster Princess. London: Bloomsbury.

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