The Bard

As mentioned in my honesty post, I love Shakespeare.  I don’t see how anyone could not.  I mean, not only was he an amazing playwright, the man invented over 2,000 modern English words.  I prefer his tragedies to his comedies, though his comedies are quiet amusing.  Romeo and Juliette is a classic, but it’s not my favorite.  That award is split between Hamlet and Macbeth.  What can I say, I love his tragedy when it’s at its most tragic.  I feel horrible that Shakespeare lost his young son Hamnet, but without that loss, the world may have lost Hamlet. At least something good came from the child’s death.


I haven’t read any Shakespeare lately, but I just finished reading Mistress Shakespeare by Karen Harper.  It’s a historical fiction novel focusing on Will’s first, but not officially recognized, wife, Anne Whateley.  No one really knows if he was married to such a person just days before he married Anne Hathaway, but the Worcester archives show that a marriage license was granted for Whateley and Shakespeare literally days before Will was forced to wed the pregnant Hathaway.  True or not, it makes for interesting speculation and a great story.  But the novel wasn’t all about romance–it followed Shakespeare as he created his most famous works, showing the motivation behind each one.  It certainly makes you look at some of his sonnets and plays in a different light.


So anyway, that book got me on an “I love Shakespeare” kick, so when I saw a Shakespeare display at Barnes And Noble, far be it for me to resist.  It had everything you might expect–a couple biographies, spark notes, and an assortment of his plays–but it also had a group of books I didn’t even know existed.  They were titled “Shakespeare in Plain English,” and were set up like dual-language books.  Old English on one page, “regular” English on the page opposite.  I leafed through a couple because I was curious to see how they translated it, and I was horrified!


Part of what makes Shakespeare Shakespeare is the flowing language and the imagery it creates.  The “plain English” version was just that–completely plain.  For example, take this short quote from Act One, Scene One of Hamlet:


Original version:

“For this relief much thanks. ’tis bitter cold,

And I am sick at heart.”


“Plain” version:

“Thanks for being on time. It’s bitter cold,

And I’m depressed.”


Or this, from Act One, Scene II of Macbeth:


Doubtful it stood,
As two spent swimmers that do cling together(10)
And choke their art. The merciless Macdonwald—
Worthy to be a rebel, for to that
The multiplying villainies of nature
Do swarm upon him—from the western isles
Of kerns and gallowglasses is supplied;(15)
And fortune, on his damned quarrel smiling,
Show’d like a rebel’s whore, but all’s too weak;
For brave Macbeth—well he deserves that name—
Disdaining fortune, with his brandish’d steel,
Which smoked with bloody execution,(20)
Like valor’s minion carved out his passage
Till he faced the slave,
Which ne’er shook hands, nor bade farewell to him,
Till he unseam’d him from the nave to the chaps,
And fix’d his head upon our battlements


The outcome was doubtful;
Men fought like tired swimmers who cling together
And wind up choking. The merciless Macdonwald,
A worthy rebel, because
The multiple evils of nature
Are in him, has a supply of Irish foot soldiers and
Soldiers from the Irish chiefs in the Western islands,
And fortune, smiling on his damned quarrel,
Looked like a rebel’s whore. Only they all lacked courage,
Because brave Macbeth, well he deserves that name,
Outshining fortune, with his brandished sword,
Which was steaming with blood in the hot use of it,
Like power’s hero,
Carved out his way through them until he faced Macdonwald;
And he never shook hands, said goodbye to him,
Until he cut him in half, from his navel to his chin,
And put Macdonwald’s head on top of our fort’s wall.

For me, it doesn’t elicit quite the same feeling……I only hope that they don’t start using these versions in schools to teach Shakespeare, because so, so much is just lost in translation.


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