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Apropos of Shakespeare
Posted: 24 April 2016 11:46 AM   [ Ignore ]
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http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-0424-oconnor-shakespeare-translation-20160424-story.html

I’m opposed to this entirely, because once one starts playing around with Shakespeare’s words we lose the imprint of the author’s style. We might as well translate Faulkner and Joyce because of their abstruse language.

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Posted: 24 April 2016 03:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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The linguist James McWhorter is one who thinks so. He argues that it is time to stop pretending that we can easily absorb 16th century English — “We cannot understand what the man is saying”— and that we should use contemporary English translations.

Seems an overstatement. You have to pay attention, and without a bit of study you’ll miss some of it but I don’t think people have to pretend to understand it. Much of it can be understood with no work at all:  “ I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.”

People have been making small changes for a whole now, replacing ‘a’ with ‘he’, or ‘an’ with ‘if’ etc. Changes that aid comprehension but still honouring Shakespeare’s use of language.What McWhorter suggests goes beyond that, and it is stating the obvious to say you’ll lose a lot:  the meter, the cadence, the rhyme. A lot of the wordplay won’t work in modern English.

On the other hand you won’t lose everything. You’ll still have his allusions. You’ll still have the stories, though none of the stories in the good plays are original anyway.

I don’t _object_ to modern English versions. In a universe where Othello has been translated into Klingon I can’t object if someone wants to stand on stage and read out the Cliff notes to the Tempest. But it is not what I’d prefer to see.

There is a spectrum of options and a perfect translation into modern English lies at one end of that spectrum. Take the example given in the article:

Here, for instance is Thersites in “Troilus and Cressida” berating another character: “Let thy blood be thy direction till thy death! then if she that lays thee out says thou art a fair corse, I’ll be sworn and sworn upon’t she never shrouded any but lazars.”

A modern English version might run: “May the itch in your blood be your guide through life! Then if the old woman who lays you out thinks you make a pretty corpse, I’ll be sure she’s only done lepers.”

Seems an extreme change. Replace thy with your and thee with you, corse with corpse, lazars with lepers, art with are, make some minimal changes to the phrasing while preserving the meter, and you’ll have something that an unschooled modern audience will understand that is still distinctively “Shakespearean”. Go lightly. If it ain’t broke, don’t touch it.

EDIT: typo (ate/are)

[ Edited: 24 April 2016 06:19 PM by OP Tipping ]
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Posted: 24 April 2016 08:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Love’s Labour Lost was translated into Afghani and people sacrificed and died for the right to do it. At least one actress’s husband is dead. Another actress is missing. Most of the other actors fear for their lives. My problem with some of what the article is talking about is that when you have men fighting on stage with giant phalluses it descends to a kind of camp buffoonery that is characteristic of cultural low self-esteem or even self-loathing. What is it we actually care about. Shakespeare in Kabul Not that one is arguing that we can ne’er change a hair of Shakespeare, but what would the Bard have wanted? I think he would have wanted quality first. There’s probably room for several versions of Shakespeare.

I’d like to know if this is this even a legitimate translation:

Here, for instance is Thersites in “Troilus and Cressida” berating another character: “Let thy blood be thy direction till thy death! then if she that lays thee out says thou art a fair corse, I’ll be sworn and sworn upon’t she never shrouded any but lazars.”

A modern English version might run: “May the itch in your blood be your guide through life! Then if the old woman who lays you out thinks you make a pretty corpse, I’ll be sure she’s only done lepers.”

I can see that blood might mean overriding passion, but “itch”? Why is “she” suddenly an “old woman”? I don’t think this gives the exact verb tense of the original verb tense, which I would call a future conditional: I’ll be sure she’s only done lepers.

Just a question about quality of translation. And, yes, for me keep it close to the original.

As a side note, this was on NPR. According to the director, one of the actresses, was only fourteen, was illiterate, and was an encyclopedia of emotions. That’s my phrase for today. :-)

[ Edited: 24 April 2016 09:09 PM by Iron Pyrite ]
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Posted: 25 April 2016 02:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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It is a near certainty that any play of Shakespeare that you read has had the language modernized to some extent. Virtually all editions of Shakespeare modernize the spelling.  (This isn’t true of other Elizabethan/Jacobean playwrights and authors, but Billy has such a huge market that publishers do insist on some modernization to enhance sales and accessibility.) And let’s not get into the differences between the folio and quarto versions; any version will have massive editorial intervention and is not exactly what was performed when Shakespeare himself was at the helm.

I’m with McWhorter on this. Update the language if the production calls for it. As the article points out, adaptation happens in virtually every other aspect of a Shakespeare production. So why not the language? You don’t lose anything by it. The original language is still there for those that want it (and given how people feel about Shakespeare, traditional productions are not likely to disappear from the stage).

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Posted: 25 April 2016 03:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I’ve found comparing my feeble attempts to read Shakespeare with my viewing of the plays that a good actor can do all the translating necessary without changing a word.

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Posted: 25 April 2016 07:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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It is a near certainty that any play of Shakespeare that you read has had the language modernized to some extent. Virtually all editions of Shakespeare modernize the spelling.

To modernize the spelling is understandable, because it doesn’t change Shakespeare’s style of writing; the wording is what distinguishes writers from each other. We can all tell a story, but it’s how we tell it that makes the difference.

I’m with McWhorter on this. Update the language if the production calls for it. As the article points out, adaptation happens in virtually every other aspect of a Shakespeare production. So why not the language?

But why change it? The only reason is to dumb down the language to meet the needs of the market; let’s be honest.
By the way, isn’t Shakespeare’s language technically considered a modern English, since modern English began in the late 14th century?

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Posted: 25 April 2016 10:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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But why change it? The only reason is to dumb down the language to meet the needs of the market; let’s be honest.

It’s not necessarily “dumbing down.” When done right, it can reinvigorate old and stale material. Adaptation has always been a part of theater. And to pretend that “traditional” productions of Shakespeare don’t aggressively intervene in the text is ludicrous. The plays are continually being staged and edited to reflect changing ideas. Which is not to say that you can’t continue to use the original texts if you wish to.

And the above sentiment is elitist. It’s saying those who can afford the education and time to intensively study the language so that it is understood in all it’s subtleties are the only ones who deserve to appreciate it. The rest can be pacified with bread and circuses.

By the way, isn’t Shakespeare’s language technically considered a modern English, since modern English began in the late 14th century?

Certainly not that early. Chaucer is late fourteenth century. The dividing line is usually drawn at either 1500 or 1550, the sixteenth century. But the line is arbitrary; hence the round numbers. And most scholars label Shakespeare as early modern, to recognize that his language is not really the same one we speak today.

It’s not like people woke up on 1 January 1500 and were suddenly speaking a different form of English than the day before. The language has been undergoing continual change. It’s been 400 years since Shakespeare died, and the language has changed an awfully lot since then. What historical period you label him with doesn’t change that.

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Posted: 25 April 2016 10:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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It’s not necessarily “dumbing down.” When done right, it can reinvigorate old and stale material. Adaptation has always been a part of theater. And to pretend that “traditional” productions of Shakespeare don’t aggressively intervene in the text is ludicrous. The plays are continually being staged and edited to reflect changing ideas. Which is not to say that you can’t continue to use the original texts if you wish to.

Thanks for the information, I understand what you’re saying, and it makes sense, but I just don’t like the idea of changing the original words of an author. After all, in almost all publications of Shakespeare there are footnotes to assist readers with the more abstruse words and phrases.

And the above sentiment is elitist. It’s saying those who can afford the education and time to intensively study the language so that it is understood in all it’s subtleties are the only ones who deserve to appreciate it. The rest can be pacified with bread and circuses.

However, I don’t agree with that statement.
There are many people who did not have a formal education but enjoyed reading Shakespeare. Conversely, the majority of well-educated people, whom I’ve met, have rarely, or never, read Shakespeare.

It’s not so much an education as it is a love for literature.

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Posted: 26 April 2016 03:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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After all, in almost all publications of Shakespeare there are footnotes to assist readers with the more abstruse words and phrases.

There are no footnotes or glosses when the play is performed. Remember, these are plays, intended for the stage.

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Posted: 26 April 2016 06:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I don’t understand why you think making Shakespeare accessible to a wider market detracts from the originals. Everything known is all still available to everyone who wants it. You can still read and enjoy and watch the versions you prefer. Nothing has been lost.

As you say, modernizing the language opens it up to a larger market. I’m betting Shakespeare (who was just trying to sell tickets) would disagree.

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Posted: 26 April 2016 10:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Once again McWhorter drenches what might be a sensible idea in absurd overstatement.  And I basically agree with Logophile on this: sure, make small alterations to bring out the meaning more clearly, but don’t rewrite; an audience doesn’t have to understand every word to get the impact, and in fact some passages are so dense with imagery, metaphor, and recondite language they couldn’t have been understood on the fly even by the original audience.  Shakespeare wasn’t writing for immediate and total accessibility; if he had, he wouldn’t have been Shakespeare, he would have been just another dramatist, popular for the moment and soon forgotten.  Dave’s position seems to me to verge on “who cares about the language? show the folks a good time!,” which… well, let me just say there are worse sins than elitism.

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Posted: 26 April 2016 01:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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languagehat - 26 April 2016 10:19 AM

Once again McWhorter drenches what might be a sensible idea in absurd overstatement.  And I basically agree with Logophile on this: sure, make small alterations to bring out the meaning more clearly, but don’t rewrite; an audience doesn’t have to understand every word to get the impact, and in fact some passages are so dense with imagery, metaphor, and recondite language they couldn’t have been understood on the fly even by the original audience.  Shakespeare wasn’t writing for immediate and total accessibility; if he had, he wouldn’t have been Shakespeare, he would have been just another dramatist, popular for the moment and soon forgotten.  Dave’s position seems to me to verge on “who cares about the language? show the folks a good time!,” which… well, let me just say there are worse sins than elitism.

Spot on. Shakespeare is all about the language. None of the stories were original to him (with the sole possible exception of The Merry Wives). Every age has modernized, altered, adapted the plays (one thinks with a shudder of Nahum Tate’s version of King Lear in the 17th century - he gave it a happy ending - and Colley Cibber’s Richard III and much-ridiculed King John in the 18th). It’s Shakespeare’s lines that survive. Much of what he wrote at the time went straight over the heads of the groundlings, upon whom classical allusions, etc would be lost. Yet they loved the plays in spite of that. Shakespeare pleased all, such was his genius.

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Posted: 26 April 2016 01:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Dave’s position seems to me to verge on “who cares about the language? show the folks a good time!,” which… well, let me just say there are worse sins than elitism.

It’s essentially a translation, at least if it’s done well. We generally have no problem reading (good) translations of literary works originally written in other languages (or in Old or Middle English), even if we recognize that a translation, even a very good one, isn’t quite the same thing as the original.

As for alterations that go beyond what would be considered “translation,” I’m all for people playing with and adapting literature in any way they see fit. As Happydog points out, it doesn’t detract from the original, which is still with us. But, of course, if you take the adaptation process too far, you have to cease calling it “Shakespeare.”

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Posted: 26 April 2016 01:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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We generally have no problem reading (good) translations of literary works originally written in other languages (or in Old or Middle English), even if we recognize that a translation, even a very good one, isn’t quite the same thing as the original.

You say not quite the same, I say not at all the same.  To me, reading a translation is like looking at a fuzzy black-and-white photo of a painting (which for a long time was all you could get unless you went to the museum where it hung); it’s better than nothing, but why settle for it if you can get the real thing?  Of course, with most languages even the polyglot among us have to settle for it, but when it’s written in our own language, even if somewhat antiquated, it seems the height of laziness to say “Nah, I’ll settle for the black-and-white photo, thanks.”

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Posted: 28 April 2016 11:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Then there is this, that shows Shakespeare is more popular in non-English speaking countries than in English-speaking ones. Money quote:

The research showed that Shakespeare is slightly more popular outside the UK (65%) than in the country where he was born (59%). Contributable factors include his works being translated into more contemporary editions and adaptation into other formats such as a new production of Romeo and Juliet in Bangladesh by disabled actors in partnership with the British Council and the Graeae Theatre Company.

Specifically, in the English-speaking countries polled - the UK (58%) and both Australia and the USA (55%) – an understanding of Shakespeare also scored comparably lower. With the research suggesting that this may be because of the inaccessibility of his original writing.

I’m not sure how much this survey should be relied upon, though. It’s an internet survey, with all the attendant faults that entails. The figures may also be influenced by prestige. It’s all self-reporting, so people in non-English-speaking countries may be claiming a greater knowledge and appreciation of the Bard because that shows education and a knowledge of English and world culture.

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Posted: 28 April 2016 02:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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So the problem is that modern language versions would only be serving ignorant, lazy people and those people don’t deserve any version of Shakespeare?

I’ll let my sister know she’s a fool for enjoying West Side Story.

Anyone who wants to read the “originals” can do that at any time. Anyone can go see “historical” versions of the plays. It’s all still there for anyone who wants it.

All you’re doing is name calling people who don’t share your point of view that those should be the only options.

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