Your eyes skim through the text as fast as humanly possible, and you are hoping the words on the page will make sense if you read them fast enough.

You read it again, a little slower now because you lost the part where the daughter was actually a son and some creature in the woods drank a magical potion with a fairy and a floating donkey head. There’s someone named Puck in there somewhere (“great name for a cat,” your brain exclaims) and you’ve lost the page where the two lovers finally die, holding hands…? You wake up the next morning, drooling all over your copious notes and books and bolt through the door to class. 

You bomb that test.

Shakespeare is the stuff of nightmares to many a student the long dialogues stretching a page (or sometimes two) with characters who have way too large of an emotional range, large enough for scholarly pieces exploring the depths of their stuff; the culmination of studying a single line.

On September 30, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival announced that a group of 36 playwrights would “translate” 39 of Shakespeare’s plays into modern English. The translation project aims to make Shakespeare more “approachable” to mere mortals.

It is understandable why somebody would even try  such a feat. Shakespeare can be gloomy. But the word “gloomy” was invented by him.

To even think that such a task could be achieved by a bunch of playwrights (I bet you don’t know any from the “modern” era) is a little too hysterical.

A play is a concept that has deep historical meaning. It reeks of the Greek civilization and the visualization of art, culture and emotion at a time when the world saw progress like no other; where Aristotle and Archimedes co-existed and walked the same soil.

Before Shakespeare, we had Aeschylus and Sophocles- when men could be artistic, innovative and philosophical at the same time.

Shakespeare was different. He was an entity who managed to make romantic unions seem funny; odious, fat men dangerous and heroes more human than they actually were. His words, which he often invented himself (and a large number of them still being used today) bled gravity. Each sentence is a preamble to the next event, each word hanging by a single thread onto the character’s line of thought. The place where Shakespeare succeeds as a playwright is his ability to make his characters as different from each other as possible – as alive as a brooding Hamlet or as drab as the Duke of Exeter. We live through his works even today.

Let’s take a moment to ponder upon what a “modern translation” of Shakespeare would look like:

Romeo : Yo, ‘sup Jules.

Juliet : Hey Romeo

Romeo : Saints have lips too so let’s kiss.

Juliet ; But those lips are meant for praying-

You see what I mean?

Modern English is what Shakespeare created it to be, whether you like it or not. Without him, our dictionaries would not have a variation like “scathing” or a ridiculous term like “flibbertigibbet” which nobody but nuns use to describe Maria.

Shakespeare spews love, hate, happiness and anger all in the same play, but that is the closest connection a student has to match their own frustration. How would modern English convey that feeling?

“..Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,

And thus the native hue of resolution

Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought..”

Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1

To make of that what you will or not, that is the question.


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