Gide’s Tragedy and Ours

Gide’s Tragedy and Ours

Andre Gide: A life in the Present
by Alan Sheridan
Harvard University Press, 1999 634 pp $35

One of the hardest tasks of André Gide’s long life was a translation of Hamlet, which he completed in 1942 after twenty years of intermittent labor. Rendering Shakespeare’s lyricism and wordplay into French was so arduous, he wrote, that each day’s effort resulted in “dislocating one’s brains.” But even after decades of such torture, Gide never lost his fascination with the play. A journal entry from late 1943 reads:

[E]ach decisive action on the part of Hamlet is preceded by a sort of try-out of that action, as if it had some trouble fitting into reality. Already at the very beginning of the drama, in the dialogue with the ghost; then in any one of Hamlet’s ways of behaving, toward his mother, with the King, with Ophelia . . . first he outlines the action, awkwardly. . . .Before the successful realization, there is always a failure.