Whenever I attend a play by William Shakespeare or just read it, I have to confess that I only understand about 60%. This does not prevent me from enjoying the performance or getting the gist but the lack of complete understanding does leave me with the sense that I am enjoying it less that I might. Of course, I could take the trouble to study up the play before I attend but that seems like too much work.
So I was interested in this report about an attempt by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to try and make Shakespeare more understandable to people like me by translating the entire canon into contemporary English while retaining the rhythm and flavor of the original.
Here’s an example, both written and spoken, from the play Timon of Athens. Here is the original.
Slaves and fools,
Pluck the grave wrinkled senate from the bench
And minister in their steads. To general filths
Convert o’th’ instant, green virginity,
Do’t in your parents’ eyes. Bankrupts, hold fast;
Rather than render back, out with your knives
And cut your trusters’ throats! Bound servants, steal:
Large-handed robbers your grave masters are
And pill by law.
Here’s the revised version.
Servants and clowns,
Kick the grizzled old senators out of their offices
And legislate in their place …
Innocent virgins, turn sluttish now — why wait? —
And do it while your parents watch … Bankrupt?
Keep your money, and if your creditors demand payment
Pick up a knife and cut their throats. Workers, steal
Your bosses are crooks in fine suits, bandits raking in their loot,
Naturally, a lot of people are outraged at any attempt to change Shakespeare’s language, seeing that as the essence of his plays.
I kind of like the revised version. But then, I am pretty lowbrow in my literary tastes.