27 June 2008

He jests at scars

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."

Translated?? Translated???

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...)


amy said...

Only because I know you're in Language Lovers and you made a point of it: When I edited, we were instructed not to hyphenate -ly words in the format you mention: "easily understood," for instance, is correct without the hyphen, as is "nicely edited." Now, off to see if I can find another source besides the company-specific style guide. (See, though, I think "company-specific" needs a hyphen, because specific modifies company, not guide.)

--a fellow persnickety language lover :)

amy said...

Found it: http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/CMS_FAQ/HyphensEnDashesEmDashes/HyphensEnDashesEmDashes31.html

That makes sense, since the company relied on the Chicago Manual of Style as a backup when questions arose. It does say it's a matter of preference, and it's more common on the other side of the pond.

(See, I am a thorough editing nerd!)

teabird said...

That explains everything! I'd rather write like Edith Wharton than anyone else!

That said, it has long been the practice elsewhere—among British writers, for example—to hyphenate ly + participle/adjective compounds. And American writers a century ago—Edith Wharton comes to mind (“the pallour of her delicately-hollowed face,” describing an exhausted Lily Bart toward the end of The House of Mirth [1905])—seemed always to use such hyphens (or at least their publishers did). The reasoning behind this approach may be that the ly so strongly telegraphs another modifier that the two might as well tie the knot.

Beverly said...

One of my pet peeves as a devotee of Shakespeare is when people say they don't understand the language (often saying "middle English is hard)--it's the language we speak NOW, just a little different. If my students EVER pull out one of these editions, it's an auto F. Worse than Cliff Notes. I'm going to go stroke my Arden editions and remind myself that civilization and culture is not dead. Yet.

Carrie K said...

Translated? What ----? oh my.

The "translation" doesn't bring the poetry and play of language to the script either. Have you seen this? Oxford: Son of Queen Elizabeth I. Why stop with just one theory?

Carrie K said...

Folger's Shakespeare Museum in DC is fabulous to visit, btw.

Kathleen said...

There is always something lost in translation, isn't there.

...and am so sorry to have rad that George Carlin passed away the other day.

kataish said...

What a FANTASTIC entry.

TRANSLATED Shakespeare makes me want to cry. Are people really that lazy? (I guess I don't really need an answer to that).

Lets hope Shakespeare isn't rolling around in his grave too much.

RIP George Carlin.

Paula said...

Doh! *smacks hand to forehead*
Hell in a bookbag where the literary world is headed!
The new book should read "Shakespeare Translations for Lazy minds"!
Or as Shakespeare might say:
"Your brains are useless, boil'd within thy skull."

Carlin you will be missed. Rest in Peace.

Donna Lee said...

Because Shakespeare is a play (meant to be read aloud or performed) most people never get it. It is hard when you just read it to yourself, but oh, it's worth every word. I will forever thank the English teacher who made us read the plays aloud in class or I might be one of those people who enjoy the 'translations'.

60GoingOn16 said...

Please, please tell me that this is a joke, otherwise I will feel compelled to get in my car, drive up to Stratford-upon-Avon, prostrate myself before the Bard's tomb and apologise for 21st century ignorance.

KSD said...

Your tag "Hell in a handbasket" says it all.

KnitNana said...

My grandfather, who read me (and explained, as well) Shakespeare from the time I was 6, is rolling in his grave.
And Carlin...what can I say that hasn't already? He will be missed.

Nad said...

Please tell me that this "translation" is a joke. I can understand it when my EFL students request a translation and even there you get the good and the bad ones. You have to decide whether you want the version that translates the sense of what it is being said or a freer version that tries to capture both sense and rythm and usually fails in both fields.

sunt_lacrimae_rerum said...

Ooohh Oohhh Oooohhhh

I love Shakespeare. This is an age of poetrylessness (I know that Matthew Arnold used that vile word about the Victorians). But it is more so today.

Did you notice that in England the O levels--or some sort of equivalent--My selective amnesia is acting up--have decided to move away from quotations from literature to quotations from travel brochures and advertisements? There's won't always be an England, alas.

Liz said...

I can identify. I just finished the school year. My student's English class read Romeo and Juliet and I believe they had these editions, or something very much like it. The teacher and I were reading from our books, the books we've had for years, so I don't know exactly how the play was "translated" but I was a little dismayed. I must say, however, that my student really enjoyed the play but he told me that it "ended weird". I asked why and he said, "Well, first Romeo threatens to beat up his servant, then he kills Paris, then he poisons himself, then Juliet stabs herself, and their parents don't even seem that upset. Then it just ends."

I chuckled.