MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Shakespeare in “Translation”


Stop right there: “Most educated people are uncomfortable admitting that Shakespeare’s language often feels more medicinal than enlightening.”

This absurd claim (“medicinal”??) is just one of the hopelessly faulty assumptions in John H. McWhorter’s Wall Street Journal piece “A Facelift for Shakespeare”, which attempts to argue the case for “translating” all of Shakespeare’s plays into contemporary English — an initiative commissioned by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival — “because Shakespeare’s English is so far removed from the English of 2015 that it often interferes [sic] with our own comprehension.”

This is the level of argument McWhorter puts forward: “It is true that translated Shakespeare is no longer Shakespeare in the strictest [sic] sense.”

Let’s not forget to rewrite those passages that make us “uncomfortable,” right? After all, they gave King Lear a happy ending back in the Restoration.

And why hesitate when it comes to the other arts? I guess Walter Murphy was way ahead of his time in 1976 when he translated Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony to “A Fifth of Beethoven,” making it safe and trigger-free for the disco era:

Filed under: Beethoven, Shakespeare, stupid ideas

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