Shakespearean "translations"

Extollager

Well-Known Member
Joined
Aug 21, 2010
Messages
8,984
Fooey. Of course Shakespeare doesn't need translating. He wrote early modern English.


High school students can and do (or have) read Shakespeare's plays and found them intelligible with notes such as are available in typical paperback and textbook editions.
But we are asked to trust the editors that nothing really will be lost by pasteurizing Shakespeare's poetry.

One of the great reasons to read Shakespeare is to be taken out of our own time, with its characteristic language, and to be enlarged as our intellects and imaginations are initiated into his worldview, his understanding of nature and human nature. He really is a poet, too, and "lost in translation" is a real thing.

But I have little doubt that this sort of thing will catch on. It will please the lazy, sell tickets, and give people another occasion for approving themselves.

I used to live in Ashland and went to quite a few of the plays in the 1970s, by the way, but I don't suppose I'd go now.

Note that these rascals started with one of the least-known plays. Perhaps they should have had the courage of their convictions and started with one of the best-known ones.
 

Hugh

Well-Known Member
Supporter
Joined
Mar 27, 2016
Messages
2,184
When I was nine or ten and very bored visiting a relative, I came across the Charles and Mary Lamb "Tales from Shakespeare". I really liked it. I wouldn't have found my way into Shakespeare at that age. However.....
 

Extollager

Well-Known Member
Joined
Aug 21, 2010
Messages
8,984
There's room for all sorts of aides to Shakespeare if people want them. My objection is to the Oregon "Shakespearean" Festival performing the edited texts.

In contrast, I liked the idea of doing Shakespeare with Original Pronunciation.
 

Teresa Edgerton

Goblin Princess
Staff member
Supporter
Joined
Nov 1, 2004
Messages
15,593
Location
California
On the face of it, it sounds like a bad idea. But having read the whole article ... I'm not won over, but would have to see one of the plays to make up my mind. I certainly wouldn't like the translations to take over as the preferred versions, but what they are doing sounds like it might make for an an interesting addition to the original plays, like the sort of thing that theater companies are already doing when, for instance, staging one of the plays in Nazi Germany or turning the Montagues and Capulets into modern day gangsters.
 

Extollager

Well-Known Member
Joined
Aug 21, 2010
Messages
8,984
I don't want just the "universal," "timeless" aspects of the plays, but the recalcitrant, "obsolete," even "weird" (to us) elements.

The Taming of the Plays? -- the texts come to us as living expressions of a world like and also much unlike ours. I want that! But the OSFA text editors want to do me a favor and make them easier and more familiar -- i.e. make them a lot more like the time and place I already swim around in.

It's a little as if a great sf author had expended great pains in creating a truly convincing rendition of an alien culture -- and a publisher's marketing team decided to alter it to make it easier for inattentive readers to peruse. To exaggerate, it's as if an editorial/marketing team got hold of The Left Hand of Darkness and worked it over till it was a Tom Swift novel or The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet.
 

Hugh

Well-Known Member
Supporter
Joined
Mar 27, 2016
Messages
2,184
A while back my wife got me to go with her to see “Romeo and Juliet” at the Globe. I was prepared to be open-minded and give it a go, but.... it was absolutely brilliant. Been back several times since.
 

hitmouse

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 3, 2011
Messages
4,006
I have never even considered lookimg at something like this. I have probably been influenced in my snobbery by Graham Greene who does not try to hide his disdain for Lamb's Shakespeare when he uses it as a plot device in Our Man in Havana.

There are any number of handy Shakespeare plot transliterations in film and literature, but that is not the same thing. I would include the clever and funny Reduced Shakespeare in this group.
 

Teresa Edgerton

Goblin Princess
Staff member
Supporter
Joined
Nov 1, 2004
Messages
15,593
Location
California
Having read the article, it appears that the "translators" have a list of dos and don't that they are expected to follow, and if they stick to those lists, then they would avoid many of those very things we would naturally fear that "translations" into more modern English would seem to involve. Which is why I said I would want to see the text of a translation before I decide whether this is such a bad thing or maybe just ... a thing. That would at least give an idea of how they are interpreting and following their basic guidelines*, which actually sound quite reasonable, but I can see how it would in truth come down to how they apply those principles in practice. They all sound good, but how closely are they being followed?.

And even if this group of people is being conscientious in that regard, would those who spot a popular trend and seek to imitate it be equally careful?

Like Extollager I enjoy the recalcitrant, obsolete, "weird" bits, and would find the plays less satisfying without them, but does that necessarily mean that those who don't find them so much to their taste are cultural philistines? (Not that anyone here has made that accusation specifically, in so many word, but I think it may be implied in some of the reactions above.). I don't know. Maybe those who don't like those bits should stick to more modern playwrights and leave Shakespeare alone. Or should they? Maybe people who are introduced to Shakespeare through the "translations" might be entranced enough to seek out the real thing. (As I, as a child, was introduced through reading Lamb's Tales and subsequently surprised my 5th grade teacher during our next excursion to the grammar school library by asking her where the collections of Shakespeare's plays were kept. Once provided with the real thing, I decided I'd be happy to stick with Lamb for the time being. But a few years later I went looking for the plays again.)
_____
*
"Do no harm: Plenty of the language doesn’t need translating.
Go line by line: No editing, no fixing, no personal politics, no regionalisms.
Keep the time period when the play was written.
Keep Shakespeare’s heightened language. That was the most important one, Douthit said in a 2017 OSF Prologue article.
'It still has to have rhyme, meter, rhetoric, image, metaphor, character, action and theme,' she said. 'Shakespeare’s astonishingly compressed language must be respected.'"
 
Last edited:

soulsinging

the dude abides
Joined
Oct 23, 2008
Messages
2,499
I thought this had already been done years ago? Isn't there a set of books, ostensibly for high schoolers, that presented the plays with original text and "modern" language side by side?
 

hitmouse

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 3, 2011
Messages
4,006
I think Teresa's comments are sensible. Plain English Shakespeare could be horrid, but if it opens up the Bard to a wider audience then that has to be a good thing.

Is this very different from English translations of French and German classics?
 

Extollager

Well-Known Member
Joined
Aug 21, 2010
Messages
8,984
Yes, I would say it is different, Hitmouse. Shakespeare wrote English. To revise what he wrote, so as to make it easy for us, is akin to requiring a standard southern-England BBC English of all broadcasters in the UK; the Yorkshireman or Yorkshirewoman reading the evening news needs to shed that "provincial" accent, etc. Happily, as I understand it the BBC doesn't take this stance now.

I've taught Russian literature, in translation, on the college level. As a non-Slavic Studies professor, I shouldn't have done that, some might say; those books should be taught by professors who know the original language. I think that is the ideal, but I also hold that, when the translation is made, it exists, as a literary work in its own right. So I taught novels by Tolstoy and Dostoevsky as translated by Pevear and Volokhonsky knowing that these were not what T & D wrote.

But, again, Shakespeare wrote in English. He has, of course, been translated into French, German, etc. Are we now in the place, as English speakers and readers, that our command of our own language and our ability to enhance it are so diminished, that we need something akin to what the non-English-readers of France and Germany needed?

By the way, when I taught Shakespeare, I showed only one movie. That was Akira Kurosawa's free version of Macbeth as a samurai-era story, Throne of Blood. It is a great movie, and, I would suggest, part of its greatness is that it doesn't attempt to be a "translation." So I would say that free adaptations of Shakespearean plays can be fine, understood as what they are. But I'm uneasy about these "translations" that are neither what Shakespeare wrote nor free adaptations acknowledged as such.

It's probably true that this sort of thing was inevitable in a culture that esteems comfort and convenience as ours does, and (except for sports and consumer products) doesn't perhaps have much use for excellence.

It's also likely that this sort of thing was inevitable given the way much poetry produced today is rather like prose. It can be pleasant to read (e.g. Richard Jones's Stranger on Earth, which I'm reading now) and good in its own right. But That's not what Shakespeare wrote in his poetic passages.

What the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is doing isn't the end of the world, but its does look like marking the end of something good. When the box office shows that the easy-to-understand plays outsell the Shakespeare's own language plays, I suppose the latter will be offered less and less often.
 

hitmouse

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 3, 2011
Messages
4,006
Good points. Bear with me here. Where would you put the modern English versions of old and middle English lit? Thinking Beowulf or Chaucer. Much more difficult than Shakespeare. Old English is practically another language.
 

Extollager

Well-Known Member
Joined
Aug 21, 2010
Messages
8,984
Yes, it is. That's why it's a shame that places like Oxford stopped requiring Old English/Anglo-Saxon -- a notable monument on the road leading towards English becoming suitable for someone who aspires to be "a glib examinee in subjects requiring no exact knowledge." I hasten to admit that I never learned OE myself, to my impoverishment as a teacher and reader.

When I was a college teacher (retired last year), I assigned Beowulf in the Raffel translation. Some of the students would be high school teachers and would be expected to teach this work. Likewise I assigned Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in Brian Stone's translation, since while the poem is written in Middle English, it is a Northern variant that is very far from modern English.

However, such Chaucer as I assigned was in Middle English with notes (the spelling was lightly modernized, too) -- photocopied pages from Fisher's Complete Poetry and Prose of Geoffrey Chaucer, 1977). (I assigned the General Prologue and the Nun's Priest's Tale, as I recall.)

For early modern English -- the students read about 3/5 of the Oxford World's Classics edition of Malory's Morte Darthur. This text from about 1470 has modernized spelling and helpful editorial notes.

The students read Book One of The Faerie Queene in an edition with modernized spelling ("knight," not "knyght," that sort of thing) with lots of notes. I used Roy Maynard's edition, Fierce Wars and Faithful Loves, which goes out of its way to be reader-friendly. I assigned The Complete Pelican Shakespeare, ed. Orgel and Braunmuller, 2002.

I wanted to be realistic and fair to my students, but not to succumb to the "soft bigotry of low expectations." (My students were typically from rural North Dakota.) Usually they rose to the challenge of the course and did the reading. I gave them closed-book quizzes followed by an open-book, very short in-class essay at the beginning of most 2 1/2-hour evening class meetings. My agenda was mostly to ascertain that they had read the work assigned and had a grasp of its meaning. They didn't have to apply "critical theory" to it. They generally did pretty well.
 
Last edited:

Artoriarius

Lord High Pooh-Bah of All Books I Survey
Joined
May 18, 2018
Messages
134
Location
West Virginia
I think you're making a mountain out of a molehill. Modernised Shakespeare has been done many times before - heck, my own introduction to the Bard was through a couple of volumes that had modernised language - and the originals still survive, thrive, and inspire new works. I prefer the original, true, but I can't say that modernisations have done any harm in the past, and they're not likely to now.

You forget that Shakespeare wasn't trying to make a world unlike ours. He wrote plays for his world, that he lived in - and if the setting was a different time and place? Too bad. Classical Rome, ancient Greece, the Wars of the Roses - all became Elizabethan England, regardless of any anachronisms that may have arisen (and boy, were there some obvious ones). The plays, also, weren't considered great literature when they were first performed - as any Elizabethan scholar can tell you, playwrights were considered very lower-class, for quite a few reasons. They were the equivalent of our modern movies - entertainment for the masses, and therefore written so the masses could enjoy them. Hence the dirty jokes, even in his tragedies and histories; hence the famous bloodiness of Titus Andronicus; hence the cliches, old and tired even then - mistaken identities, girls disguised as boys (and vice versa), love triangles (and more complicated love shapes): Shakespeare used them all like a master screenwriter.

Modernisation, therefore, is a way to snap people out of the "highbrow literature" rut and view the plays as they were originally meant to be viewed - not as a way to take people out of their own time, but simply to tell a good story, with a little something for everyone.
 

Extollager

Well-Known Member
Joined
Aug 21, 2010
Messages
8,984
Hmm... if people are in a rut in 2010s America, it's not likely to be a "highbrow" one.

If there is nothing much going on in the plays but the telling of a good story, the modernizations will be appropriate means to that end (the more modernization the merrier) -- particularly to the telling of what people in our time think is a good story, which might not be what Shakespeare and his intended audience conceived it to be.

But it's true that, at various times, Shakespeare has been edited. There was, notably, the famous Dr. Bowdler, who removed those dirty jokes. Perhaps there should be a Bowdler Award given from time to time for those who present Shakespeare's writing in a form deemed by some to be more palatable to the day's audiences. The OSFA modernizations might be worthy of a nomination!
 
Last edited:

hitmouse

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 3, 2011
Messages
4,006
I drive past Dr Bowdler's old house on my way to work every day. It has been divided up into student bedsits and is quite tatty.
 

Similar threads


Top