Sunday, October 18, 2015

Because fardels are for chumps...

Well this is just not ok. Did you hear about this? Click here. No? Ok, fine, I'll explain: The Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon is going to stage Shakespeare's plays, like all of them, in contemporary English.
"Oh shit Horatio, this is Yorick's skull! He was a
nice guy and now he's dead. Man, life's weird..."

-Hamlet, Act V scene 1
"Pfft...Shakespeare. What'd he know?"
-Bill Rauch
Why would anyone, much less a respected company like the OSF want to strip Shakespeare's plays of their rich, poetic language and replace it with the way we all sound in real life? Do they hate things that are good? Did they lose a bet? According to the festival's artistic director Bill Rauch, the project, called Play On is intended to offer something new and accessible, but I'm not so sure. This whole idea sounds to me a little like 'Shakespeare's plays are hard, so we fixed them.'

The translations aren't meant to replace the original works, Rauch insists, pointing out that we have both Romeo and Juliet and Westside Story. And he's right. Shakespeare's plays are adapted and updated all the time. Like, did you know that 10 Things I Hate About You is Taming of the Shrew or that The Lion King is Hamlet with lions instead of Danish people?
It's also Kimba the White Lion because
originality is for people who can't afford good lawyers. 
Don't judge, it was a
world before Wikipedia.
A lot of people find Shakespeare's language archaic and hard to follow, and that's fair. I mean we don't really say 'thee' and 'thou' anymore, and we've replaced thumb biting with far more sophisticated finger gestures. And Shakespeare can be intimidating. Play On is sort of based on the idea that once people see a version in contemporary English, they might be more inclined to try the original text. According to Rauch: "It is our hope and expectation that these translations will inspire audience members to return to Shakespeare's original words, ideally with even greater enjoyment and understanding." You know, sort of like how in grade school we'd all use Cliffs Notes to get through a book report, but then we'd get all inspired to go back and read Crime and Punishment in the original Russian. Ok, wishful thinking maybe but their hearts are in the right place.

But I guess what's weird about Play On is that it sounds like they're taking out the thing that makes Shakespeare Shakespeare. Sets, costumes, indoors, outdoors, you can do pretty much anything you want to one of his plays and it's still Shakespeare, but take out the 'fardles' and the 'by my troths' and you just have a bunch of sociopathic kings and horny, self-destructive teens soliloquizing their every waking thought.
"Sometimes, when I'm alone, I like to explain my machinations
out loud to no one in particular. It's just a little thing I do..."

-Richard III

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