You're enjoying one of 5 free monthly articles on You have articles remaining.

Please SUBSCRIBE or LOG IN to access unlimited articles.

  • David Gontar

    Dear Mr. Rauch, If you’re ever interested in looking at Shakespeare in a quite different way, you might try HAMLET MADE SIMPLE AND OTHER ESSAYS and UNREADING SHAKESPEARE, both from New English Review Press. It would be interesting to learn your responses to the arguments made therein. Best wishes.

  • Matt Schwader

    Nothing Mr. Rauch says to defend this project makes any real sense to me when I look at the work they are actually doing. Here is my take on this project…

  • j ranelli

    bowdlerdash! adaptations maybe…

  • Kelly Monaghan

    Rauch thinks OSF is expanding the horizons of diversity in theater? Nonsense. It’s the same gender/racial/sexual orientation blindness that we’ve been enjoying for decades now. Ever so slightly enhanced perhaps, but nothing new.

    If he really wants to blaze new trails in diversity he should found the Fat and Over Fifty Theatrical Company, which. not incidentally, would probably better reflect OSF’s subscriber base.

    And, by the way, why does OSF have a white, gay, male artistic director? The board should launch a search for a cisgendered individual whose DNA profile precisely matches the mix of ethic backgrounds in the United States.

  • Vincent Saia

    As some one whose background is strictly blue-collar I am deeply offended at Mr. Rauch’s assertion that it is “elitist” to want to preserve Shakespeare’s original words. Some years ago, David Mamet’s (some one else who did not come form an ‘elite” background) profanity-laden Pulitzer Prize-winning play GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS was made into a film starring Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alan Arkin, Jonathan Price, Ed Harris, and Kevin Spacey. As per the usual custom, when the film was going to be put on regular television the cast was approached to re-record their dialogue sans the profanity. To a man, they steadfastly refused because they felt doing that would betray the writing. Was that elitist of Mr. Pacino (another one who – like a certain writer from Stratford-on-Avon, England – did not come from an “elite” background) and Company, Mr. Rauch? The brilliance of Shakespeare is in his plots and characters, but his MAGIC is in his words. I’ve lost two good fiends this past year and in writing their tributes on my Facebook page I found the perfect expression of my feelings in Shakespeare’s words: “Parting is such sweet sorrow,” and “Flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.” Changing his words IS dumbing it down no matter how much any one denies it. If you change his words – using 36 writers who, if they’re honest, would admit that all of them put together aren’t as great as Shakespeare – and “translate” the works – from ENGLISH to ENGLISH! – you have no business putting Shakespeare’s name on it, WHICH IS WHAT ANY WRITER WOULD SAY IF IT WERE DONE TO HIS/HER WORK, which Mr. Shakespeare cannot, of course, do since he is conveniently dead. If Mr. Rauch wishes to make more money by making “accessible” entertainment to the point where the tail is wagging the dog, I suggest he sell the theater and produce reality shows. They’re much cheaper to produce and they are much more profitable.

    • j ranelli

      on the mark…recall john reed’s famous quote (played with motive and cue by warren beatty in “reds”), a palpable hit on his editor: “don’t rewrite what i wrote!”

  • Claudia Little

    I just read about the translation project at OSF in the Daily Tidings. I, personally, am hoping to see some of these plays staged in Ashland. We came to Ashland from San Diego where we were members of The Old Globe theater as well as La Jolla Playhouse. One reason for choosing Ashland as our new home was because of the theater scene here. I can remember many Shakespeare plays at the “Globe” as a child and as an adult. However, without studying a play before attending, makes it very difficult to understand and follow the plot. The archaic language is a barrier to many patrons. My husband and I love theater but usually don’t go to the Shakespeare productions unless we’ve taken a class or read a synopsis. Perhaps that’s what everyone should do, but, let’s be realistic, not everyone has the time or interest before a night out to the theater. I love the whole theater experience – the costumes, the actors, the staging, etc, so even if I don’t get all the dialogue I can usually get the intent in the long run. As someone in the Tidings article mentioned, I, too, would love to see a back-to-back performance of first the translated play and then the original Shakespeare. It would make my enjoyment of the original language play much deeper and provide insight into the evolution of the English language.

  • Mic Tod

    I will. of course, reserve judgment till I have actually seen Play On! in production and experienced a play or two based upon the idea. I admit it does concern me given all the other clumsy attempts we have seen over the years to “modernize” Shakespeare. However, the talent level at OSF is worthy of the effort. I will not, however, be able to consign myself to the image of Shakespeare himself eve being a Hip-Hop artist. Mr. Rauch almost undoes himself with that one.

  • Michael L Hays

    Rauch tries to pin the label “elitist” on opponents–that would include me; how does he know what my attitudes and values are?–because he has no real argument against the effects of substituting modern for Shakespearean language. “I question the dangerously elitist assumption that old language is superior and new forms of language are somehow inferior.” Rauch raises a question which no one else raises–certainly, I do not–because he is someone with no understanding of Shakespeare’s language.

    The issue is not what language is “superior” or “inferior”; the issue is the relative effectiveness in conveying meaning, especially the richness of Shakespeare’s language, which is, among other things, highly metaphoric or allusive. Apparently, everyone but Rauch knows that it is the poetry which is lost in translation. I doubt that he knows how much he would impoverish the text if he tried to render “destruction fang mankind” (Timon) in a modern idiom, and repeated the process line after line throughout the plays. I wonder how he would translate, or substitute for, Edgar’s rhymed couplet about Poor Tom’s fare for seven years or his mention of “Child Rowland”–both in King Lear–without obliterating important meanings. A modern audience might not know what these allusions mean, but they would know that they were allusions and might be led to learn more about the play. Leave them out, and they will never know that they have been deprived of anything worth thinking about and making part of their maturing experience of the play. The end result: Rauch is going to decide what his audience should or should not know, and invariably less than they might otherwise know. My question: why is his position on this matter not itself elitist in giving an artistic direction this culturally dangerous power to diminish Shakespeare?

    • Kent Richmond

      I am not involved in the OSF project, but I am a Shakespeare translator. Here is how I handled Edgar’s rhyme:

      Horses to ride and weapons to wear
      But mice and rats and very small deer
      Have been Tom’s food for seven long year.

      The changes are so slight they may not be noticed. But let’s consider Tom’s previous rhyme. What is a theatergoer who has not read the play since college supposed to make of these lines? They sound like pure gibberish. Is that what the audience should conclude?

      Swithold footed thrice the ‘old
      He met the nightmare and her ninefold
      Bid her alight
      And her troth plight
      And anoint thee, witch, anoint thee.

      The language is so inaccessible that I really get to have some fun here:

      Three times Saint Withold walked the moor
      He met the banshee and her four
      Made her ascend
      And pledge to mend
      Her ways, so witch away.

      The banshee’s brood shrinks some to get a rhyme but look at what is gained in comprehension? It will no longer be mistaken for pure gibberish. Here is the paradox: Due to language change, a translation can be truer to a playwright’s intent than the original is. Meaning is restored, not lost. Maddening, indeed, but that is what time does to language. A translator surrounded by hundreds of years of wonderful Shakespeare scholarship is able to design a better translation than the audience can manage on the fly.

      • Brendan Averett

        Nothing is gained. You’ve altered the image pretty radically and haphazardly. A banshee is a fairy whose wail is an omen of death – a nightmare is something completely different. Why change it?You only confuse Shakespeare’s image. You’ve also lost the “I” sounds in altering the number. Nightmare, ninefold, alight, plight… I, I, I, I. This, for an actor is a tool, and a good actor would be able to make use of this… you’ve removed it. Shakespeare was written for actors to perform to an audience, it was not written to be read. You have gained nothing in comprehension of Shakespeare (because you’ve made it about something completely different) and you have lost what makes Shakespeare a genius when it comes to the use of language.

        And, why increase the number of horses and weapons? What did you gain there? Nothing.

        • Kent Richmond

          Sorry for the typo on “aroint” in the original.

          Nothing. Nothing. Nothing, you say.That aside, you are working pretty hard when you start counting “I’s” and imagine more power residing in the /r/ of “aroint” than the /w/ of “away.” I would love to keep such a quaint word, but nobody understands it, and I promised a translation. Is my version allowed to gets its drive from “eh” sounds (met, ascend, pledge, mend)? The vowel is not a diphthong but the repetition is there. I am sure an actor could get some drive out of it. If he can get “And her troth plight” to roll off the tongue (…thpl… is a nasty consonant cluster), I’m sure he can handle “and pledge to mend.” (See my discussion of “banshee” below.)

          I did this translation 15 years ago, so I do not recall every decision I made. Just remember that all this races by on the stage. If a translator surrounded by 13 annotated editions of the play and lots of dictionaries missed your take on it, what chance does the audience have?

          • Michael Hankin

            In support Kent, I like translation…but aroint is magic compared to away. One of the greatest pleasures of seeing Sp is allowing the audience to become comfortable with obtuse language through the course of an evening. The more they hear it, the more they become able to “translate” the language and are transported by their own genius into a world they do not recognize. Letting them hear “aroint” and find its meaning is like taking them on a ride they can get no where else. Away doesn’t do it. It’s a matter of trust….

          • Kent Richmond

            Keep in mind that no single translation of mine can withstand this kind of analysis. If “aroint” were the only problem word, I would leave it. It is the cumulative effect of all this that wears me down when I watch a play. Some of my translations are not because the language is difficult. It is because I am trying to maintain a consistent dialect throughout the play. I do not want my version to mix modern and archaic. Then either the archaic sounds ironical, or the modern sounds smart-alecky. Here is an article where I explain the cumulative effect.

          • Michael Hankin

            You don’t seem to hear what is being said. Aroint isn’t a problem word except for you. For me it is what makes Sp unique and fresh and fun. You want to dull him down…

          • Kent Richmond

            Remember that I am promising a translation for people who find his 400-year-old dialect difficult to follow and tiring. If you love the original, it will always be available and will probably remain the most commonly performed version. If I am wrong and there is no market at all for my kind of translation, then so be it. You might be surprised, though, at how good Shakespeare is in translation. Just ask Germans, French, and Chinese. If he is the most popular dramatist in the world in foreign translation, it cannot be because of his dialect. It suggests, as John McWhorter has said, that English-speaking audiences are missing out on something special that the rest of the world gets to enjoy.

          • Brendan Averett

            You are comparing translation into a different language to translation into the same language… this is a fallacious argument. Just as Rauch’s R&J/ West Side Story argument is fallacious.

            Yes, a German, French or Chinese person is good because those people may not understand English (or not as easily as they do their native tongue). I think Cyrano de Bergerac is brilliant – not because I know it in the original French, but because I have read a translation into English. As OSF has stated, Shakespeare’s English is our English – though their are words that have fallen out of common usage. That’s why “translation” doesn’t fit this process.

            And West Side Story is not Romeo & Juliet, so that comparison to this process is also fallacious. They are different plays with different plots – one has been adapted from the other – that’s the difference between adaptation and translation.

          • Brendan Averett

            The problem with the “cumulative effect” argument is that it takes these words in isolation, out of context – which is not how they exist in the plays. What it means to ‘bear a fardel’ is, essentially, explained in the next line: “to grunt and sweat under a weary life.” And if an actor delivers a the word fardel with that image in mind, it won’t matter that an audience doesn’t know the dictionary definition of the word, they will have received an image of it not being a good thing, and the why is in the next line.

            The words that may not be explained in the text itself have a quality to them that, while the word may seem foreign when read, when spoken gives them some meaning. For example, “quietus” means “release” – usually in death. There is a quality to the word which gives the impression of being in a state of peace (or quiet)… And “bare bodkin” when spoken well, gives the impression of the ease with which this peace can be achieved – and so, the image of the ease with which one may simply off oneself is delivered to the audience – even if the audience doesn’t know the exact meaning of the words used to convey that image. But, the speech is ultimately about how it’s not really that easy. The big problem I see when this speech is delivered is that actors go into “famous speech” mode and almost sing these lines… the images, then remain out of reach to an audience.

            Context is how people – especially children – pick up new vocabulary it’s how we learn to speak in the first place – by association.

            “Wherefore” in R&J is also explained in context as the thought goes on to plead for Romeo to deny his name… again, delivered well, “wherefore” becomes clear.

            When you approach Shakespeare as literature to be read, you may feel like these words are problematic. Because, then, if you have no idea how to do the “hard work” referred to above, it may seem like pretty gibberish. But, Shakespeare did not write them to be read.

            Try this: take the fardels thought and speak it aloud. Imagine that bearing a fardel is carrying a 100lb moving box in your arms for two miles… up a steep hill; say those words to convey that meaning. Then continue into the next line as though someone quickly asked “What do you mean?” If you don’t find that the F, D and L gain a weight and make the word seem incredibly unpleasant and Hamlet’s meaning doesn’t come across as utterly clear, I’ll eat my hat. The audience doesn’t need to know exactly what a fardel is to get what Hamlet is saying.

          • Kent Richmond

            Here is an article where I show why context only goes so far.


            If it were only the occasional “Smurf” word, then context would work, but it is much more than that. Understand that I am promising a translation and cannot let my affection for a particular word keep me from my duty. I don’t want my translations to be a hodgepodge of old and new. Hamlet was not being quaint when he said “fardel.” When surrounded by a modern dialect, the word might have that feel.

            I remember a comical television commercial for eyeglasses from the 1960s where a nearsighted Juliet is on the balcony saying “O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” Now matter how hard an actor focuses on an image of “wherefore,” it cannot be rescued from the audience. It is too false a friend. (And that is why it is usually glossed).

          • Brendan Averett

            Your having admitted to not being an actor, having illustrated no understanding of how a actor approaches Shakespeare, and having admitted, yourself, that you have a hard time understanding Shakespeare, I don’t think you can be any kind of authority on what an actor can or cannot achieve with the language. My having been an actor performing with this language for over 20 years, having witnessed first hand actors achieve the very thing you claim they can’t, having had audiences come up after performances and thank the company because they had never understood this or that passage before, having been in an audience at a brilliant production and thought, “Yes! This is how you do this!” I can attest that you are wrong.

            It’s quite easy to speak ignorantly of something about which you know little.

            I gave you some insight into how an actor would approach “fardel” and the result would hardly be called quaint. Ah, well… you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him understand that he doesn’t have to know what molecules are in it in order to have his thirst quenched.

          • Kent Richmond

            So you have played Hamlet. Cool.

            I meant “fardel” would sound quaint if it popped up in a translation in modern English. In fact, I get that reaction when I retain an archaic word. It sounds out of place, so I toss it in the next draft. Of course, “fardel” was not quaint in the original, though we have no way of knowing how the audience in 1602 may have reacted to it or which meaning they knew. Most editors follow Schmidt, whose dictionary came out before the OED, and gloss it as a burden, load, pack or bundle. I went with “load.” Curiously, the OED suggests Shakespeare used the word to mean a little packet or parcel. He used it 6 times with that meaning in Winter’s Tale. It appears nowhere else in his works. Sorry for telling you more than you need to know, but I am a linguist and love this kind of thing.

            No I’m not an actor, and you don’t seem to be a linguist. But I am an expert on knowing what I understand when I am at a Shakespeare play. I have seen wonderful actors give wonderful performances and regret that I cannot follow what they are saying.

            This will be my last post on this, but let me invite you to read a little article I wrote entitled “Shakespeare and Shame.” It addresses the question, “Should I feel ashamed if Shakespeare is difficult for me?”


          • Brendan Averett

            Didn’t say I’ve played Hamlet, though, I have studied the role. You know how musicians practice… well, actors do, too. I will walk down the street, through the park… once, across Ireland and try out speeches. Lear’s speech on the heath was exciting to have a go at while walking in gale force winds. (Even the gods can hear you whisper.) It’s my craft and I care about such things. If you couldn’t follow what they said, then they didn’t give a wonderful performance. It’s as simple as that. So, whether you are a linguist or not is irrelevant. The problem of inaccessibility lies not with the audience, but with the production.

            You’ll forgive me if I don’t read another one of your articles. Nobody should be ashamed if they find Shakespeare difficult. They, perhaps, shouldn’t be “translating” it (blind leading the blind), but there’s no shame in finding it difficult.

            With regard to editors and performing Shakespeare, I will leave you with a quote from Cicely Berry (a true expert on Shakespearean text) to actors in a workshop I had the privilege to be a part of: “The editors have fucked us.” As I’ve stated elsewhere, this is just more of that fuckery.

          • Matt Schwader

            Here’s article addressing this project and the idea of “translation.”
            Please stop calling yourself a “translator” of Shakespeare. You’re interpreting his work and adapting it to fit your interpretation. It’s already in English.

          • Kent Richmond

            I am not involved in the OSF project and am not sure what direction their translations will eventually take.

            My translations are line-by-line and maintain the iambic pentameter wherever Shakespeare used it. I surround myself with as many glossed, annotated editions as I can find. If a content word is not glossed, I look it up in my collection of Shakespeare dictionaries if there is any reason to doubt my assumptions. Certainly I have to make some calls when editors disagree, and they often do, but I prefer it when I do not have to. Some complain that I translate words and phrases that are clear, but I do so because I do not want my versions to be a hodgepodge of old and new and because I am working to maintain the meter. I allow myself a little more freedom when I encounter metaphors, jokes, and wordplay that would be obscure today.

            Before I translate a play, I go years without reading or seeing it so that I can look at it with a fresh eye, as someone who has never seen or read the play before. I attack it line-by-line, never reading ahead and never reading about the play except for the notes that editors provide in the margins. That, of course, leads to mistakes. In my first translation, for example, I missed that Shakespeare was making fun of the word “element.” So once I have finished my early drafts, I read heavily about the play so I can catch things that my myopic approach in the early drafts may have missed.

            To give a better sense of how my translations sound, here is my translation of a notoriously difficult passage from Act 3, Scene 1 of King Lear. Productions often omit this passage, but since I prefer to let Shakespeare and directors make these calls, I leave it in. Its meaning and even its coherence are much disputed, and the Folio and Quarto have different versions. I have chosen to share this passage because it shows how I handle situations where interpretation is forced upon me. It also shows how I maintain complexity and how I use meter.

            I know you, sir
            And will upon the strength of what I see
            Entrust to you a vital task. A rift,
            Though mutual sleight-of-hand still hides its face,
            Divides the dukes of Albany and Cornwall,
            Who—as do all whom guiding stars enthrone
            And set on high—have servants, so they seem,
            Who work for France as spies and keen observers
            Reporting on our state. What has been seen,
            Whether it is the plotting, squabbling dukes,
            Or the hard reins the two of them have tugged
            Against the kind old king, or something deeper—
            And either way, these things may serve as pretexts—
            In any case, a force will come from France
            Into this scattered realm; for France, already
            Wise to our negligence, has planted men
            In some of our best ports who wait the call
            To show their arms in open. As for you,
            If you will dare to place trust in my words
            And race ahead to Dover, you will find
            Some there who’ll thank you for a true report
            Of how unnatural, maddening sorrow gives
            The king just cause to protest.
            I am a gentleman of noble blood,
            And offer with my knowledge and assurance
            This duty to you.

            If you don’t have the original nearby, here is a link to it. Kent’s speech starts at Line 21:

          • Matt Schwader

            You clearly haven’t read my post. Otherwise you wouldn’t have tried to win me over with your simplified ADAPTATION of Shakespeare’s work, loaded with your personal INTERPRETATIONS, which you are passing off as “translations.” Not interested.

          • Kent Richmond

            Oh, I read it and know that I can’t win you over. But I do know a good foil when I see one—self-assured, thinks high-front vowels (freeee) are just the coolest (how dare we remove one from the canon), reads one questionable translation of a play nobody much cares about and answers the call to blog on about the “state of classical theatre in America.”

          • Matt Schwader

            Wow, you really like to look down your nose at people don’t you? Even a little mockery too? Big man. I saw your proud list of academic credentials mentioned earlier. Well, rather than measuring our manhoods by now listing the people and theatres with whom I work in order to defend my place discussing the state of classical theatre in America, I’ll get to the real point.

            Your academic studies have brought you further from the truth, not closer. I’m all for academia and literary interpretation, and dramaturgy for the sake of deeper, richer explorations of language and the multitudes of meanings one can mine in Shakespeare’s text. However, when you find yourself wasting time during the performance of a play in a state of regret over not following a wonderful actor’s performance, then perhaps you have let your mind wander away from the present moment. Your mind has practiced the interpretation game so hard and long that it has meandered away, leaving your heart and your viscera behind. Sadly, the egoic mind believes it is the be-all and the end-all, but without the heart and the viscera equally engaged, the mind is never present. It is in the present moment where language, story, context, event, communication, and the animalistic experience of nowness converge and that’s where Shakespeare (or any great theatrical writer) soars. Shakespeare works best when a great actor, a responsible director and design team, and a present audience are in concert.

            Your concern for Shakespeare’s “readability” is charming, but ultimately a side note of little importance. These poetic plays were never intended for readability, you know this. They were intended for performance and for listening. I’m surprised that even Bill Rauch continues to defend a need for “translations” for the sake of better contemporary comprehension, yet continues to argue… “Shakespeare brilliantly invented new words at an alarming rate, sometimes daringly mashing up language from the streets with heightened poetry.” This is true. Most experts concur that he invented over 1,700 of our common words today by smashing up verbs, nouns, adjectives, prefixes, suffixes, and even deliberate contextual contradictions. The people of his time didn’t need “translations” to fully experience his plays, even when new verbiage was flying at them at such an alarming rate, why would we need it now. “Translations,” presented in performance as Shakespeare’s intent, aren’t the dumbing down of Shakespeare, they are the dumbing down of the audience.

            Look, it’s super handy for an actor/director/text coach to have this person or that person’s interpretation of any given piece of complicated text for reference. That’s where the academic’s work is so beneficial. But when the academic starts tiptoeing out on stage… well, let me put it this way Kent, you’re no Shakespeare.

          • Kent Richmond

            Your vocabulary numbers seem to be way off. David Crystal, who by the way agrees with you that what I am doing is unnecessary if people prepare before going to the theatre, has pared that number way down. With computers able to scan virtually every word ever written, we are learning more about the origins of words and phrases that Shakespeare used. That does not detract from his achievement, of course. I would not be translating him if I did not think he was wonderful. Only an academic would translate stuff that nobody reads, and I am not an academic except in your fantasy about me. But like you, I benefit from other people’s academic work and apply it.

            Change “readability” to “listenability” if you wish. I don’t have the technology available to me to analyze spoken language. It has to be converted to text first.

          • Reading, listening, and witnessing are all different things. But never mind that. You admit that you are neither a theatre artist nor an academic, yet you propose to offer up your own interpretations of one of history’s greatest poets/playwrights as if they were his intentions. Your continued insistence on calling what you do “translations” and the reprehensible way you are selling and presenting your own texts as if they were Shakespeare’s work/intent (as the covers plainly suggest) is as shameful as it is pointless. My friend, we’re done here. We’ve made our points.

          • For the record, I’m sure you have many great qualities and are a fine and good person. I just seriously find your hobby and how you speak of it to be distasteful.

          • Kent Richmond

            I love that word “admit.”

            “So you admit you’re only an actor hired to read lines, yet you see yourself as ….I find it reprehensible that you strut the stage claiming to have the true ….” I can take that tone too, but I find it distasteful.

          • Ha! Yeah, I admit it, I’m an actor who performs Shakespeare. I admit I’ve studied the works of Shakespeare consistently every year since the age of 14, having performed on average a minimum of two of Shakespeare’s plays a year over the last 25 years as well as attended a respected masters program whose cornerstone is the works of William Shakespeare. I admit I have worked at major national Shakespeare theatres, as well as internationally on Shakespeare productions and adaptations. I admit too that I direct Shakespeare productions. I admit that teach acting at universities (specializing in Shakespearean verse), as well as coach seasoned professional actors in speaking his words. I admit, I know Shakespeare. I admit that I specialize in doing Shakespeare. This I wholeheartedly admit. Just to clarify what it is that I admit. You admit you re-write Shakespeare from with own perspective and try to sell it to people under the guise of a “translation” of his original intentions. Have a good day. I wish you well.

          • Kent Richmond

            An addendum to my previous post (since certain skeptics overestimate their intuitive sense of the complexity of language).

            Here are some measures that quantify the syntactic complexity and lexical range of both the original and translated passages from Act 3, Scene 1 of King Lear. The vocabulary statistics are provided by Range program software out of the Victoria University of Wellington. The readability scores, available in many word processing programs, use sentence and syllable count data to estimate readability. Well-written, adult-level, non-technical material tends to fall between 60 and 70 (higher means easier). Adult-level journalism tends to land in the Grade 10-12 level.

            Both versions of the Earl of Kent’s speech fall within the optimal readability ranges and have nearly identical numbers on the vocabulary measures.

            Kent Richmond’s Translation of the Earl of Kent’s Speech:
            Number of tokens (words): 208
            Number of types (unique words): 135 (64.5%)
            Flesch Reading Ease: 65.8
            Flesch Kincaid Grade Level: 12.4

            Shakespeare’s Original:
            Number of tokens: 205
            Number of types: 133 (64.9%)
            Flesch-Reading Ease: 68.4
            Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 10.8

            Keep in mind that these readability measures do not take into account subject matter or word frequency. To illustrate this point, the three sentences below receive the same readability scores even though the second one may seem less familiar and the third one pure nonsense:

            The dog chased the chicken.
            The plumber chased the threads.
            The fardzop gossed the cleap.

            These measures cannot show why Shakespeare’s language is difficult for us, but they do reveal that his lexical density and sentence complexity are well within the range of what literate adults could comfortably manage if Shakespeare were speaking contemporary English. It also shows that my approach will produce a translation that matches the complexity of Shakespeare in these areas. I am not dumbing him down.

            For comparison purposes, here are the numbers for a prose translation that promises to simplify Shakespeare:

            NF Translation of Kent’s Speech
            Number of Words: 181
            Number of Types: 107 (59.8%)
            Flesch Reading Ease: 71.3
            Flesch Grade Level: 8.2

            Notice that it is briefer, has a smaller vocabulary, moves out of the adult reading-ease sweet spot, and is aimed at a lower grade level.

          • j ranelli

            illuminate please…are you suggesting that “wherefore” is defined by an image (such as the one in the eyeglass commercial)?…it’s been played in that “where?” way too oft’, (even some of my younger students have giggled)…played in the “why?” way, it works as intended, an internal moment…and so recognized by an audience from which it needs or wants no rescue..

          • Kent Richmond

            I mentioned the commercial just to show that the we often get the meaning wrong. Even though the expression “the why and the wherefore” remains, we still seem to here “where.” I remember an English teacher correcting the commercial. Since I promised a translation, my translation changes it to “why.” To the modern-day ear, Juliet’s next words then make more sense. She is not some wistful, dopey kid pining. She knows where Romeo is. She is squarely addressing the dilemma she is facing.

          • j ranelli

            perhaps a trifle wistful, for”…Come Lammas Eve at night shall she be fourteen.”…your dice.

          • Kent Richmond

            Poor kid. Shakespeare made her so young.

      • Michael L Hays

        Thanks for this reply, which demonstrates my point.

        Example the first: The difference between “But mice and rats and such small deer” and “But mice and rats and very small deer” is rather significant. “Such,” of course, means “similar to” and “deer” means “animals,” the point being that speaker as a prisoner ate living vermin or one sort or another. “Very” makes “small” smaller, if you will, a rather large animal still rather large and carrying the connotation of “venison.” So the translation distorts sense–while in jail for seven years, the prisoner ate rodents and venison. This subtle change makes nonsense of sense; although not everyone in the audience knows the meaning of “deer” in the context, they all know the meaning of “such.”

        Example the second: A night-mare is nothing like a banshee: a demon is nothing like a maiden intuiting the approach of death. What ways in the world must a “banshee” mend? Or are we using some comic-book variety of “banshee.” And changing the number of progeny form “nine” to “four” makes the rhyme–exactly the kind of “fix” which those of us who oppose your enterprise fea–but destroys the theological overtones of nine. And your substitution makes no sense in terms of the dramatic situation in which it is uttered. Again, sense is rendered nonsense for the sake of a rhyme eliminating meaning and an image without a fit to the purpose.

        By the way, Shakespeare’s “pure gibberish” is rarely, if ever (I cannot think of an exception), “pure gibberish.” Only by obliterating the meanings which, when you discuss them, expose your ignorance, can you make such an outrageous claim to offer something “truer to the playwright’s intent than the original.” Plainly you think yourself superior to Shakespeare. What arrogance to go with you ignorance.

        • Kent Richmond

          Here is how the RSC Shakespeare glosses the word “nightmare”: evil female spirit supposed to settle upon a sleeper’s chest, inducing bad dreams and feelings of suffocation. Well, not exactly a banshee but close enough. The original meaning of “nightmare” is lost to all English speakers today, so I translated it. Your discussion of the deer nuance takes a whole paragraph to explain. Anything that takes that much exposition I change. The audience will think deer is a venison-bearing animal in either version. Sorry I was the only person in the audience who missed the “theological” overtones of “nine,” whatever they might be. (I added in “Saint” by the way to help the audience a bit with that).

          In the last paragraph, you seem to be trying to misunderstand me. I’ll just add that when productions of Othello change “ancient” to “ensign,” they are showing awareness of what I called the translation paradox. School teachers call such words “false friends”—that’s right, they falsify Shakespeare. Your final two sentences are too mean to respond to.

          • Michael L Hays

            You just do not get it or cannot fact it: you destroy meaning in pursuit of money. Sneering at the knowledge which underlies Shakespeare’s language is precisely the charge against you and your ilk. I do not know how you know, or can claim to know, what audiences do or do not understand. I do know that your insensitivity to language is evident in your words, not mine, that “Due to language change, a translation can be truer to a playwright’s intent than the original is.” Is this more of your knowing, or claiming to know, better than Shakespeare what he meant? Give it up. Make a living. But do not think that you can cover up your mendacious or mercenary impulses with self-praise of your omniscience mind-reading of the long dead as well as the still living.

          • Kent Richmond

            Since you choose to slander me, let me give you a brief biography. I have degrees in English lit and linguistics. I taught English for 33 years. I am an expert on the nature and acquisition of English vocabulary. I probably know more about iambic pentameter than just about any non-actor alive. My reading/vocabulary text with Oxford University Press has done very well. I am comfortably retired and not looking for work. I have trouble understanding Shakespeare and believe that I am not unusual in this regard.

            I actually do accept criticism of my work, and l want to thank you for giving me an idea. How about this translation? It sure solves the venison problem, and the rhyme improves a bit.

            Horses to ride and weapons to wear
            But mice and rats and other such fare
            Have been Tom’s food for seven long year.

            I like it and will include it in my next revision. Thanks again. I am so happy something constructive came from this exchange.

          • Michael L Hays

            I haven’t slandered you; I have criticized your words. If you think that you know, and can improve on, Shakespeare’s intent, then you are making a claim which is absurd and revealing. I am not impressed by your biography; if you were up to it, you would not have so much trouble understanding Shakespeare, say I, on the basis of a stronger c.v. I am glad that you have found a rhyme with the first of the three lines; however, if you check the edited text, you will find that the original couplet of the second and third lines is probably the only direct quotation from another literary work, one well-known to his audience and relevant to the meaning of the whole play. You can find out what that it in my book, partly on the subject.

          • Kent Richmond

            You impugned my motives. And of course, I sensed he was quoting. The scholars I use are attentive to what lines are proverbial and refer to one of two sources to point that out.

          • Michael L Hays

            Right; I did impugn your motives. But that is not the same as slander, which implies falsehoods. Your willingness to destroy literary values and think that you are improving on the author’s intent–gee, not much going for you there.

          • Brendan Averett

            It’s a weaker rhyme, but better than the wrong meaning. What helps in the delivery of the original line is the fact that “and such small deer” is a parenthetical thought.

            Reading Shakespeare and understanding it can be hard… that’s not unusual. I’ve been doing it for 20 years and it still takes time to get my head around it – though, I’ve gotten better at it over time. Performing Shakespeare is hard… that’s not unusual. Hearing and understanding a good production of Shakespeare can be easy, should be easy. The fault for this not being the case rests not with Shakespeare’s language, however.

          • Michael Hankin

            Yes. And to remove the pregnancy image from the line weakens it and – to ride my steady horse to death – takes away the FUN of it….Language as Sp wrote it is FUN. The translations above are workaday at best….

          • Michael Hankin

            Again: “such small deer” is playful and sarcastic which is the character Edgar is playing. You underestimate the intelligence of the audience and take away one of the prime puzzle solving tasks that makes classic plays so much fun. It is naive to think that “mice and rats and such small deer” needs clarifying. Sp intended the irony of referring to garbage animals as high class venison. Irony that doesn’t need correction….

          • Brendan Averett

            The point that you seem to be missing is that the audience shouldn’t have to do any of this work. A classically trained musician may be able to explain why Mozart had a triplet here or a trill there and the effect that has, but this doesn’t have to be explained to an audience because they experience it in the moment. They do not have to know musical theory to have a full experience of music… they hear it, they respond to it. The same is true here. This “hard work” you refer to is the work that an actor and director do in preparation for performance (or should) and when this work is done thoroughly and well and the actor has a deep connection to the language (it’s not simply a collection of words in his head), the audience will receive and experience the images that the actor is sending them through the language.

            Take the deer example. A well trained actor who understands Shakespeare’s image in that moment can deliver that line today in such a way that two things will happen: they will recognize that he is talking about eating small animals, and they may wonder why he is comparing mice and rats to small deer… this will sound odd and this would be fine because the character is playing a madman. What you have done is explained the image (incorrectly… and so, yet again, changed it). Nothing is gained, a lot is lost. You haven’t translated Shakespeare, you have written something different.

            There is more to understanding Shakespeare than looking up words in a dictionary. You need to understand why those words were chosen and if it is possible for an actor to convey that image to an audience today – because that is how Shakespeare was written… with performance in mind. And the greatest problem with Shakespeare in performance today is that the “hard work” is dismissed in favor of concept and theatrical agenda rather than having concept rise out of this hard work. The problem is that actors often aren’t trained to connect with the language beyond scansion, looking up definitions and memorization. Many aren’t trained to explore an image and to learn to speak from that image. This is what ends up making Shakespeare appear inaccessible… the people on stage are unable, for whatever reason, to access it themselves. And, if they can’t, there is no way the audience will.

            Just to add:

            Ancient (or auncient) and ensign are synonymous, they have the same rhythm and, yes, an audience today would more easily understand ensign. I would still argue that you don’t HAVE to change it; delivered well, the idea will come across and an audience will acclimate. I remember the first time I heard lieutenant pronounced in the British fashion. It was odd, but I got used to it. But, a change from ancient to ensign doesn’t bother me because you don’t lose anything with the change – at least not in the instances where it is used that I am aware of. There is a vast difference between changing ancient to ensign and changing nightmare to banshee (close enough, indeed!) or such to very.

          • Kent Richmond

            I am not an actor, but this sounds more like charades than acting. Was all this pantomime required of actors in Shakespeare’s day? The Globe did not have a single seat that had a complete view of the stage. Yet the “wooden O” had great acoustics for the time and was designed for hearing, not seeing a play.

          • Brendan Averett

            Que? I talked about pantomime… where? Everything I’ve said has to do with speaking Shakespeare’s text.

          • Michael Hankin

            Again, let’s not take away the opportunity for the audience to hear “nightmare” and then hear it personified as a woman. This strange association invites the audience to imagine a new and unknown association through language. They are creating a creature they have never heard of or seen. That is the fun of it.

  • lesliee

    My one question is (and I’m skeptical regarding your response) are you charging a royalty for producing your “translated” Shakespeare plays? If you are, I now understand why you’re doing this. If not, I have a little (not much) compassion for the project. Also, not all those authors tare published playwrights.

  • Brendan Averett

    First, it is a baseless attack on those who disagree with you to argue that the claim that this is “dumbing down” Shakespeare means they have an elitist belief that old language is superior to new language. It is far from elitist to argue that the old language is fine and doesn’t need to be changed. This is in no way arguing that the old language is superior, it is arguing that it is sufficient. It is arguing that the layers and scope of the imagery that exists in the use of the old language can be lost or diminished through “translation.” This happens with the best of translations, there is no reason to believe it will not happen here.

    Second, the analogy to paint restoration is ironically flawed. The brown glaze that has built up over the centuries is actually the lack of a connection with language that we, as a society, have built up. We have lost much of the visceral connection to language that existed in Shakespeare’s day. It is actors and directors who have reconnected to the language in this way that remove the brown glaze so that you can see and hear the beauty of the original. What you are doing is not restoration, it is simplifying, it is editing.

    Third, how is what you are claiming achievable with the current guidelines of the project? It’s great that you have such a wonderfully diverse group of amazingly talent artists working on this. It is unfortunate that you have tethered them in such a way that much of the benefit from such diversity will be lost as they engage in, what is currently, an intellectual exercise in translation. Why not create a new canon of adaptations that fully explore Shakespeare’s work through the diverse eyes of these playwrights? That would be much more exciting, a much better companion piece and will not legitimize the incorrect belief that Shakespeare’s language is inaccessible?

    • Maya

      I too would much rather see this project go in the direction of adaptation over translation. It would be far more exciting, and possibly even more true to the spirit of the originals.

      The article says that “West Side Story didn’t replace Romeo & Juliet”, and while this is true, it also never claimed to be a translation. It is an adaptation. Translation indicates a different approach than adaptation. Translation means replication of the original in a new language. The fact that the source material is already in English makes this a strange place to begin. I think you do an injustice to professional translators if your own use of the term is not entirely accurate, and you actually intend to do adaptations.

      As in Brendan Averett’s first point above, it is unnecessary to insult the folks that disagree with you. Treating their opinions as elitist is unprofessional at best. Please see it as it is: a deep and abiding love for Shakespeare. These people are your allies, if you listen rather than drive them away.

      • Michael Hankin

        I agree. Adaptation can be very interesting. Translation is not necessary…

Facebook Iconfacebook like buttonTwitter Icontwitter follow buttonFollow Us on InstagramFollow Us on Instagram