Letter to Schiller – 7 Jan 2014

Dear Schiller,

Three days into rehearsal and one month from opening. Yesterday I found myself wanting to get a better sense of Mr. Oswald’s choices in translating your text, so after rehearsal I found a different translation of Maria Stuart (from sometime in the 50s). I was shocked to discover how many liberties Mr. Oswald had actually taken.

His adaptation is considerably less florid, and reduces much of your courtly pomp – I can see why it had appealed to Donizetti as an opera! Moreover, by omitting much of the tertiary action and many of the one-off characters (Burgoyne, Mary’s other ladies, various lords), his adaptation greatly emphasizes the intrigue, political maneuvering, and uncertainty of Mary’s guilt or innocence.

Maybe the most noteworthy instance is cutting Margaret Curl, the wife of Mary’s secretary, and giving her lines to Hannah Kennedy. By putting the lines about Curl’s perjury in Hannah’s mouth we have less reason to trust them, so we don’t truly know Mary’s guilt or innocence until the last moments of her confession to Melvil, right before her execution. This greatly increases the tension of that scene. I hope you’ll forgive my saying so, but I think this is a huge improvement over your original flow of information and gives greater dramatic significance to Mary’s confession beyond the inherent catharsis of the moment. This adaptation is peppered with other such changes and omissions, mostly at the beginning of scenes where it often starts in medias res.

One could argue that this does a disservice to the original intent of your play, but such is the nature of translation and adaptation, especially where a gap of history is also concerned. For my part, I confess that other translations of Maria Stuart don’t feel as accessible to me as Mr. Oswald’s. But since you yourself were no stranger to creating adaptations and translations, I can’t imagine you’d be much surprised. As Robert Bly says, the classics warrant a new translation every generation. This is why Shakespeare now feels contemporary and immediate to most French audiences but almost incomprehensible to most English-speakers. Such are the ravages of time, I suppose.

The feeling in the rehearsal room is good and filled with quite a lot of good conversation, and the pertinent quotes from your essays on art, passion, and reason seemed very well received by the cast. They really help give us a sense of your attitudes about leadership and society in the wake of the French Revolution.

Today we continue talking through Acts 2 and 3, with a focus on fully unearthing the meeting between the two Queens – and I expect it will take us awhile to really understand all the emotional nuances of that situation.

I’m eager to see how contemporary audiences relate to your work, and I’m feeling much affirmed by our decision to free ourselves from the constraints of the historical time period in both design and performance style. Nevertheless, I continue to pursue a better understanding of your influences and dramatic intent as we work to stage your play.

Thanks much and more tomorrow,

John Heimbuch
Minneapolis MN USA
January 7, 2014

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