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Sunday, August 16, 2009

"Translating" Shakespeare

Several months ago, I found myself involved in a rather lengthy argument on The Bard Blog over whether or not we need to "translate" Shakespeare. http://www.bardblog.com/the-world-sans-shakespeare/ (Should you visit, you'll see that 'lengthy' might be an understatement--I ran on quite a bit as my alter-ego "Willshill", but then, so did Professor Richmond.)

The meaning of 'translate' is defined by a 'translator', who has decided that Shakespeare, as written, is just too darned hard for mere mortals such as we. A professor at Cal State, Long Beach, Kent Richmond, as we speak, is busy at work "rewriting" Shakespeare, his stated purpose being to make Shakespeare more accessible to all. http://www.fullmeasurepress.com/

It's my contention that his work does just the opposite of its stated purpose-- making actual Shakespeare inaccessible for several reasons; not the least of which is the fact that it seems Mr. Richmond intends his work to be a wholesale replacement for Shakespeare-- as we know it--in our educational venues. Surely there are better ways to sell books, as well as better ways to teach Shakespeare, the latter being the main problem, I think. (I've experienced the positive results of some of those better ways--more on that later) Is Shakespeare too hard? --or would another kind of approach help? What do you think?


  1. I noticed that on Richmond's page somewhere it says "This complete, line-by-line translation makes the language of Shakespeare's King Lear contemporary while preserving the metrical rhythm, complexity, and poetic qualities of the original."

    I don't see how this is possible. Surely the only way to preserve the metrical rhythm, complexity, and poetic qualities of the original is the USE THE ORIGINAL.

    And the fact that these translations are being marketed as useable for performance confounds me as well. Without shortening or paraphrasing as well as "translating" we're left with very loquacious speeches.

    I hypothesize that the more "No fear" type of materials are out there, the more people will fear Shakespeare as they are taught to distance themselves from the actual works.

  2. Hear! Hear! to your hypothetical, Gedaly. There's more than enough evidence to believe you're right-on in your thinking.

    And this wholesale type of alteration, I believe, is even more presently dangerous as well, in that it 1) is "authoritatively" sanctioned by scholars at the highest levels of the educational system and 2) it makes no excuse for itself, as something on the order of "No Fear" might; but boldly asserts that it is indeed "Shakespeare" simply (how apropos an operative word) stated... "in other words".

    Anyone who cares about Shakespeare and what it means to our awareness of our own language and its importance to our understanding of how to better communicate with one another, should investigate this topic--start by going to The Bard Blog and query: The World Sans Shakespeare, or copy and paste the url: http://www.bardblog.com/the-world-sans-shakespeare/

  3. Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I have just looked at the Richmond 'translation' and I can't begin to tell you how appalled I am that this travesty is actually available to an unsuspecting public, in this manner.
    I don't have a problem with anyone doing their own version, re-writing the text for whatever reason, as long as they do not claim it is a replacement, or an improvement on the original. (In fact, it could conceivably be an improvement on the original, but this is SO not so in this instance).
    Mr Richmond may well be a distinguished linguist, and theoretician. He clearly has no sense of the tactile nature of language as expressed in the body, or he would know that his version creates a very different, immeasurably shallower experience, for both speaker and listener.
    The main point, however, which I find offensive, is his assumption that the original is inaccessible. It is not. It is assumed to be so by many, and the prejudice thus set up makes it so. However, as soon as a few basic 'rules of the game' for dealing with verse drama are established, as soon as the speaker discovers the taste of the language in the mouth (and I do NOT mean theoretically, I mean viscerally, actually), as soon as the speaker learns to trust the language and to speak it confidently, from an informed perspective, the language becomes completely and without exception accessible to the listener.
    As an actor, director and acting coach, this is my experience. This is the experience of my audiences. I don't have to fight to get people to understand what I am saying when I perform Shakespeare. I do have to fight to counter the prejudice, based in ignorance, which makes them afraid of Shakespeare.
    Yes, I'm pretty angry...