(Alistair Beaton's article appeared in the Guardian, September 30.)

Translating Bertolt Brecht and other house guests

When Alistair Beaton went to work on an English version of The Caucasian Chalk Circle, he felt the great playwright breathing down his neck – and found his arguments as relevant as ever

When you translate a play, you enter into a very intense and complex relationship with the playwright. Sometimes you feel as if you have invited them into your home.

It's not always an agreeable experience. When I was translating The Government Inspector, I used to find Nikolai Gogol roaming the house at night, patently half-mad, yet somehow endearingly welcome. He made me laugh, mostly because he made me look beneath the surface of things and see the normal in the grotesque and the grotesque in the normal. Even when he started banging on about Russia's mission to save the world, his own terrifically close relationship with God and the parlous state of my soul, I just couldn't bring myself to evict him.

When it came to translating The Arsonists, I would often find Max Frisch fussing around in the kitchen, tidying everything up and explaining in calm and reasoned tones (as he folded away the tea towels) why we have a moral duty to oppose evil. I agreed with almost everything he said, and I liked how he said it, but he did occasionally irritate me. I think it was probably something to do with the certainty and the precision of his moral clarity. He in turn accused me, of course, of merely being prejudiced against the Swiss.

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