I am currently working on a book manuscript entitled “Babelian Performances: Early Modern Interpreters and the Theatricality of Translation,” which examines a neglected aspect of translation studies: the practice of real-time translation performed by interpreters. Increased contact between speakers of different languages in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries created a growing demand for intermediaries who could facilitate both verbal and material exchanges, but as that demand grew, so did the anxiety about relying on a third party to conduct financial, political, and marital business with the highest of stakes. “Babelian Performances” argues that playwrights such as William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Thomas Heywood, Thomas Dekker, and Thomas Middleton were uniquely equipped to show audiences how the ephemeral and embodied function of the interpreter was a performative—and performable—role within an increasingly diverse linguistic landscape. The chapters of the book chart the role of the interpreter in five distinct but interconnected domains: the marketplace, the battlefield, the marital bedroom, the criminal underworld, and the colonial landscape. As a whole, the book traces a shift in early modern engagements with the interpreter, who moves from a purely functional fixture in cross-cultural encounters to a figure imbued with political, economic, and social power that can be manipulated through acts of performance. Even when playwrights exploit these interpreter-mediated moments for comic effects, they raise pressing questions about the nature and stakes of human communication during a time when the English language was rapidly changing and expanding its reach. “Babelian Performances” shows that the growing need for an interpreter in an increasingly globalized world not only shaped the early modern cultural landscape but also precipitated the development of new techniques of dramatic representation and performance. No longer just a dialogic form, drama became markedly trialogic, and the figure of the interpreter forged new relationships between actors, audiences, and language itself. By attending to the shared language between theatrical performance and the performative practice of translating in real time and in the presence of live bodies, “Babelian Performances” offers a new understanding of what it means to act as an interpreter.
I recently collaborated with Liza Blake at the University of Toronto on a scholarly edition entitled Arthur Golding’s A Moral Fabletalk and Other Renaissance Fable Translations for the MHRA Tudor and Stuart Translation Series. The edition was published in January 2017. A preview is available on Google Books, and you can order an ebook or print copy here. We received grants from the UCLA Special Collections, the Renaissance Society of America, and the NYU Animal Studies Initiative to support the archival research for this project.
My work on translation has recently appeared in a special issue of Philological Quarterly entitled The Translator’s Voice in Early Modern Literature and History, which was edited by A.E.B. Coldiron and features essays by my fellow participants in the Folger Shakespeare Library’s year-long colloquium on Renaissance/Early Modern Translation. My writing on Shakespeare and issues related to the past, present, and future of immigration has appeared in Shakespeare Quarterly’s new digital space and in a collection entitled Shakespeare and Immigration (eds. Ruben Espinosa and David Ruiter, Ashgate, 2014). An essay on grasshoppers, locusts, and crickets will appear in a collection on insect life in the Renaissance (eds. Keith Botelho and Joseph Campana), and a piece on animal language in Coriolanus that I co-authored with Liza Blake is forthcoming in the Routledge Handbook on Shakespeare and Animals (eds. Holly Dugan and Karen Raber).