Raise your hands: How many of you remember the Folger or Washington Square Press editions of Shakespeare's plays? (one - two - three -) These were nicely-edited, affordable editions that provided annotations and definitions of archaisms on the facing pages for easy reference. Maybe you still found Shakespeare rough going. Maybe you hated reading Shakespeare. But at least you got the full experience of his poetry and power, and perhaps now you recognize the Shakespearean phrases that are used (or misused) every day.
Well now, fuggedaboutit. Modern folk have neither patience nor desire to read anything that cannot be reduced to talking points. Allow me to call your attention to a new edition of the plays: Shakespeare on the double! (sic - as in, why the ! ?) To quote from the covers, "The original play, side-by-side with an easily understood modern English translation" (sic) (I would have hypenated easily-understood, but I'm persnicketty that way.) In case you don't get it, the title page says it all: "Romeo and Juliet, translated by Mary Ellen Snodgrass."
Let's compare. Folger says,"He jests at scars that never felt a wound." Snodgrass says, "Mercutio ridicules lovers' scars when he has never been shot by Cupid's arrow."
"Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?"
"Don't saints and palm-bearers have ordinary lips?"
(Don't go there.)
"I am hurt. A plague o' both your houses! I am sped. Is he gone and hath nothing?"
"I am hit. A curse on the Capulets and Montagues! I am done for. Has Tybalt escaped without a scratch?"
(Can't the reader remember these names for more than one page?)
"O happy dagger! This is thy sheath; there rust, and let me die."
"Oh handy dagger! My breast is your sheath. There rust and let me die."
(Gee, we should all have daggers lying about. They can be so - handy -)
I am, honestly, afraid to look at the Snodgrass Hamlet. Very afraid.
Maybe I'm just a little touchy on the subject of language because one of the masters, a wise and witty jester, has died. I will miss him.
What do you think Snodgrass would make of a classic Carlin line like this?
"There are nights when the wolves are silent and only the moon howls."
(I shudder to think...)