Should Shakespeare be translated?
At the Wall Street Journal, Prof. John McWhorter ("A Facelift for Shakespeare") makes the case for a "translation" of Shakespeare, endorsing the plan of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to publish Shakespeare's 39 works into modern English. According to McWhorter:
Most educated people are uncomfortable admitting that Shakespeare’s language often feels more medicinal than enlightening. We have been told since childhood that Shakespeare’s words are “elevated” and that our job is to reach up to them, or that his language is “poetic,” or that it takes British actors to get his meaning across.But none of these rationalizations holds up. Much of Shakespeare goes over our heads because, even though we recognize the words, their meaning often has changed significantly over the past four centuries.
After giving a few examples, he asks:
It is true that translated Shakespeare is no longer Shakespeare in the strictest sense. But are we satisfied with Shakespeare’s being genuinely meaningful only to an elite few unless edited to death or carefully excerpted, with most of the rest of us genuflecting in the name of “culture” and keeping our confusion to ourselves? Should we have to pore laboriously over Shakespeare on the page before seeing his work performed?
Some purists will likely rue this development, but having tried to teach Shakespeare myself, it's tough to see so many students hold such a negative view about Shakespeare because of the unfamiliarity of the language. This doesn't mean the original text should be discarded. Students should be taught how to read carefully, consult annotations and appreciate the evolution of English. But for the large sector of students and general readers of all ages who don't want to put in the time for such critical engagement, these new translations may deliver what people who truly love Shakespeare often most cherish in his works: a grappling with the essential contours of human nature, an excavation of the human spirit in all its forms.
See here to read the rest of McWhorter's essay.