> cymeriad


One of the main difficulties associated with many of the terms available for describing performance in Welsh is that, in most cases, they are nowhere near as flexible as their English equivalents.  The most obvious example of this is the word ‘performance’ itself, which, even though it derives directly from the English, is far more concrete (and thus limited in its application) than the English term, if we accept Elin Diamond’s definition of ‘performance’ as denoting ‘a doing and a thing done’.

However, ‘cymeriad’ is an exception to this rule.  It is more flexible than its English counterpart.  That word, ‘character’, derives from the Greek for ‘an engraved mark’, and has been (after Dryden in 1664) extended by metaphor to refer to an individual’s defining features, especially those treated as such by the author of a fiction.  On the other hand, ‘cymeriad’, according to Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru [‘The University of Wales Dictionary’], refers to ‘the act of taking or receiving’, which immediately gives the word a dual aspect, since taking and receiving are fundamentally different acts; more importantly, however, it is a definition which places the term neatly on the threshold, neither entirely a ‘thing’ nor an act.  The fact that ‘cymeriad’ is rooted in the verb ‘cymryd’ [‘to take’] means that the physical act of grasping’, of ‘possessing’ or ‘wresting’ some object or another, is a crucial part of its meaning; and yet ‘cymeriad’ is a thing which is also already finished – how else could one appreciate that the act of ‘wresting’ has been completed and has been formed into ‘character’ at all?

If we dig deeper into the etymology of the word, we find that its second syllable derives from an old Brythonic word or stem ‘-ber-‘, indicating ‘a load’.  In that sense, character, for a Welsh audience, may be understood as ‘the act of jointly bearing a load’.

 Author and translator: Roger Owen