Karagiozis became an iconic figure in Greek folklore at the end of the 19th century, a poor Greek peasant with an endless fund of cunning ideas. He maps well onto the protagonist of Aristophanes’ Ploutos, an ancient Greek peasant with a scheme for escaping poverty and creating social justice. Aristophanes is a challenge for the translator. A prose translation risks creating a decorous
comedy of manners, and throws up the problem of accent and register: where does the English actor find a voice for a Greek farmer 2400 years ago? Mummerset? Scots? Verse translations tend to fall back on blank verse, burdening themselves with all the Shakespearean and Wordsworthian baggage associated with that form, which for purposes of playwriting had died a theatrical death by the start of the 20th century. I have therefore
adopted the language of the traditional English folk play, with its physical energy and forward drive, cemented by short lines, rhyme and a degree of alliteration. Simplification is a good discipline, forcing the translator to locate the underlying story rather than indulge in verbal cleverness. It's a bit like puppetry, which creates its beauty through simplifying the body down to a few fixed elements. Aristophanes’ play is a parable, using a simple situation to raise complex, ultimately unanswerable questions about the nature of a fair and just society. Rather than try to capture all that a given line ‘means’, as I would have to do in a translation made for the scholar, I have kept asking myself, which is the word set up to get the laugh? What is the rhythm of the joke? Aristophanic comedy is rooted in the body, and the actors originally wore grotesque body stockings and (if male) long phalluses. In order for the audience to focus on the physical interaction of these extraordinary archetypal figures as they pursue their self-centred goals, the aim of my text must ultimately be to make itself
invisible. Words on stage are always productions of the body. Wlodzimierz Staniewski has written that ‘In the beginning of work on a new performance, the words are… a texture that I touch like a musical instrument. I know that a certain book is important, I know what it says, but I touch the texture of the book to start to dance with it.’ I have created a texture, and look forward to seeing the actors dance.