Reasons for rhymes beyond 'Rupert Bear' chimes

6th September 1996 at 01:00
Ranjit Bolt is well known for his witty translations of European plays, especially Moliere and Corneille. But the drama of an earlier period was his first love. He read Classics at Oxford and has been familiar with the Oedipus plays since he was a student.

When asked what his version brings to the already familiar works he has no hesitation. "Rhyme. Peter Hall [the director] agrees with me: there is nothing worse than bad blank verse. The Greeks didn't use rhyme but this seemed the best way to render the spirit of their blank verse. They did have alliteration and I've consciously tried to include that - it's the 'cement' of a lot of poetry."

Rhyming couplets in tragedy can lead to a doggedness and an emphasis on sound, so that the audience is anticipating the next rhyme instead of concentrating on the development of plot and character. Bolt has determined to avoid this effect, which he calls "chiming". "My lines run on. Sometimes there is an aa bb effect, sometimes you are pushed to tell it's verse, but it is important to preserve the shape of the line while avoiding that ghastly 'Rupert Bear' effect.

"While the scenes are in iambic pentameters, the style for the choruses is more lyrical, with lines of different length. Peter Hall has dressed his cast in masks so that when one member of the Chorus speaks that voice represents them all as it will not necessarily be clear who has spoken."

Although there are times in the plays when the language expresses violent emotion, such as when Oedipus goes into a state of paranoia when speaking to Creon, or pours vitriolic curses on his sons, Sophocles's poetry is, on the whole, "serene, beautiful, musical" and Bolt's translation (examples of which appear above) aims to preserve these qualities.

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