Claire Chamberlin, a junior, sits for a portrait in the Cloak Theater surrounded by the completed set for Molière Inspired.
Claire Chamberlin poses for a photo on the set of Moliere-Inspired during Winter Term. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

As the saying goes: when one door closes, another one opens.

Lawrence junior Claire Chamberlin had plans to study abroad in Senegal during 2021 Spring Term, but the program was paused due to COVID-19 pandemic protocols. However, this turn of events gave Chamberlin, who is pursuing a double major in global studies and French, the opportunity to pursue a new projectthe translation of four Molière-inspired plays from French to English. Two were later chosen to be performed on stage.

Chamberlin enrolled in Translation and Stylistics, a course taught by Eilene Hoft-March, the Milwaukee-Downer College and College Endowment Association Professor of Liberal Studies and professor of French. Near the end of the term, Chamberlin was introduced to the Molière project.

Hoft-March was working with Kathy Privatt, the James G. and Ethel M. Barber Professor of Theatre and Drama and associate professor of theatre arts, in coordinating a summer research opportunity in the French Department for a student who would translate four short plays that were retellings of works by Molière or inspired by Molière.

“Professor Kathy Privatt told me about these plays,” Hoft-March said. “We discussed how ‘interdisciplinary’and coolit would be to have a student of French translate a couple of them for performance at Lawrence.”

The production, Molière Inspired, was performed during Winter Term in the Cloak Theatre by Lawrence theatre students, directed by Privatt.

Take a look behind the scenes of Molière Inspired

Chamberlin, from Rhoadesville, Virginia, had only experienced French on DuoLingo before taking her first French class at Lawrence. She took to it quickly. A year later, she was offered the opportunity to translate these plays. But she said she was never intimidated by the work. 

“I was really excited to have the opportunity,” Chamberlin said. “I was excited to be challenged.”

For Chamberlin, the most difficult part of her work was translating French idiomatic phrases and cultural references because some literal translations did not make sense in English. And although it was tough, Chamberlin took joy in solving the translation puzzles and felt rewarded each time.

The job of the translator is to translate as literally as possible, whenever possible, but when literal translation doesn’t make sense, you need to be comfortable throwing it out the window because your job is to capture the spirit rather than the letter,” Chamberlin said.

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Whenever she felt stuck, Chamberlin would rely on the guidance and help of Hoft-March. Her knowledge, patience, and humor throughout the experience was invaluable, Chamberlin said.

And Hoft-March sang the praises of Chamberlin’s diligence.

She was attentive to accuracy, register, aesthetic, and cultural connotations,” Hoft-March said. “For lovers of language, translation can be a banquet and a brain teaser at the same time. Claire knows all about both aspects of the art.”

At the end of summer, Chamberlin met with Privatt and passed along her work. Seeing that work then performed on stage was magical.

“The things that actors did with the words that I had written were incredible,” Chamberlin said. “I am so grateful that so many people put so much effort into it and made it so beautiful.”