A review of Sonnet 127 in Noongar Language and discussion of Shakespeare's World on ABC TV Q&A
Originally posted as an assignment to "Shakespeare and his World" Future Learn 2017
Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company’s selection of 6 sonnets in Noongar Language, performed at the Globe Theatre in London, provides a path for investigation of Shakespeare’s psychological“world”. In an ABC TV Q&A panel (5 September, 2016) around the Sonnet 127, Germaine Greer argued; ‘there are no limits to Shakespeare’ (56:53) – ‘The original question … ; How do we know what Shakespeare’s thinking and what Shakespeare liked, and did he like brunettes? [is] improper … it is not the issue…you’ll never know … He’s forever abstracting himself, he’s leaving you face to face with the dilemmas in the play’. Through the course, we seem to have encountered Shakespeare doing this, always objectifying possibilities. It almost suggests Shakespeare as an avoidant personality, living life vicariously through his characters, but never owning the space.
In the panel discussion, Noongar performer, Kaarljilba Kaardn (Kylie Farmer), sees this sonnet simply as ‘Lobbying for the beauty in the blackness’ (Q&A 53.37); Bell dismisses the sonnets as personal to Shakespeare, instead, questionably suggesting ‘Isn’t he contradicting the received image of beauty, that you have to look like Queen Elizabeth? (54:18)’ ‘Anthony Grayling, broadens the discussion, that presenting Shakespeare in a different language ‘makes an enormous difference to how we appreciate it’ (54:54).
The Noongar sonnet 127 translation appears very literal, although, I’m not a Noongar speaker, so can’t be certain. Shakespeare is a master of double-entendre: “fair”, can mean just, blonde and beautiful, while “black” can mean dark and sombre or even evil. Both words are used to great effect to play on polarities. When black performs in a foreign tongue (Noongar) at the Globe, the audience has this polarity thrust in the face, in a post-colonial way, it perhaps confirming Grayling’s argument. Simplistic modern English translations are possible (such as the Sparknotes translation), but it would be demeaning to think Shakespeare would be so prosaic. Picking up Bell’s argument, the Sonnets’ publication 1609 is 6 years after Elizabeth 1’s death, therefore it could be mourning a sovereign love A personal love can be conveyed simultaneously. The audience is then thrust into the field of cultural change, Tudor Protestantism and dark reason again under challenge from the magical James 1. Elizabeth was portrayed as fair, red-wigged and powdered, both Elizabeth and James had dark eyes.
How might a “fair is foul reversal” be really portrayed in indigenous culture? Cardinal-point language, in the Finish "Kalevala", and returning to Australia, and in the Arandic "Urumbula" or Native Cat story, surprisingly offer a solution. Lemminkäinen (presumably Baltic Blonde) seeks sportive fair maidens in Pohjola, the darkest far North of raven-headed Lapps*. In the Urumbula (still largely oral tradition) the Native Cat ancestor sorts the lighter (often translated "blondes") Western Desert people from the darker east of Simpson Desert culture. So filtering Shakespearian complexities through post-colonial foreign tongues could offer objective distance, in which Shakespeare may almost certainly would delight. But that is still some way off I suspect.
Plain English translation
Sonnets Project: Shakespeare's Sonnets in Aboriginal Noongar language
Panel Discussion: The Sonnets 48:23
* Editor's Note: In other runos of the Kalevala, maidens of Pohjola are described as "flaxen"haired, so not North enough to be raven-headed Arctic circle people.