“Translational Agency in Liang Shiqiu’s Vernacular Sonnets”
Shakespeare’s Global Sonnets: Translation, Adaptation, Performance, ed. Jane Kingsley-Smith and W. Reginald Rampone, Jr. (Palgrave, 2023), pp. 161-179
Like Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, Shakespeare’s Sonnets challenge the binaries between gender and between the vernacular and the literary. Translators take up this challenge and turn it into an opportunity for humanist interpretations of literature, as in the case of Taiwanese essayist Liang Shiqiu’s (1903–1987) translation.
Widely known in the Sinophone world as the only poet to have single-handedly translated and annotated all of Shakespeare’s works into vernacular Chinese, Liang uses translations of the Western canon to
- promote the written vernacular (baihua wen) during a time when classical Chinese was regarded as the preferred vehicle for literature; and
- to render the sonnets more gender neutral.
Based on W. J. Craig’s Oxford edition (a 1943 reprint), Liang’s annotated translation of the Sonnets gloss over what he considers unpalatable sexual references.
The translation also brushes aside the (then sensitive) question of a male speaker asking a young man to reproduce in Sonnets 1–17. Since gendered pronouns are sometimes interchangeable in the Chinese language, Liang avoided having to assign male or female identities to a speaker in the poems. While Liang pursued a gender-neutral vernacular translation with a conservative agenda, his version turns out to be ahead of his time, as the revisionist approaches of Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells demonstrate the addressees in many sonnets cannot be gendered because the context is fluid and ambiguous.