NY Times Op-Ed Calls Plan to Modernize Shakespeare a Likely "Waste of Money and Talent"

News   NY Times Op-Ed Calls Plan to Modernize Shakespeare a Likely "Waste of Money and Talent"
 
The New York Times has weighed in with an op-ed piece by Columbia University English professor James Shapiro on Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s plan to “translate” all of William Shakespeare’s plays into modern English.

Shapiro is against it.

"I’ve had a chance to look over a prototype translation of Timon of Athens that the Oregon Shakespeare Festival has been sharing at workshops and readings for the past five years," he wrote. "While the work of an accomplished playwright, it is a hodgepodge, neither Elizabethan nor contemporary, and makes for dismal reading."

Shapiro says the problem is not with Shakespeare, but with the way actors and directors are trained, and the way they prepare to play the parts. "However well intended, this experiment is likely to be a waste of money and talent, for it misdiagnoses the reason that Shakespeare’s plays can be hard for playgoers to follow. The problem is not the often knotty language; it’s that even the best directors and actors — British as well as American — too frequently offer up Shakespeare’s plays without themselves having a firm enough grasp of what his words mean."

And the new translations are not likely to help, he says. "To understand Shakespeare’s characters, actors have long depended on the hints of meaning and shadings of emphasis that he embedded in his verse. They will search for them in vain in the translation: The music and rhythm of iambic pentameter are gone. Gone, too, are the shifts — which allow actors to register subtle changes in intimacy — between 'you' and 'thee.' Even classical allusions are scrapped."

Shapiro concludes, "I’d prefer to see [Oregon Shakespeare Festival] spend its money hiring such experts and enabling those 36 promising American playwrights to devote themselves to writing the next Broadway hit like Hamilton, rather than waste their time stripping away what’s Shakespearean about King Lear or Hamlet." Read Shapiro's entire column here.

Read Playbill.com's original story on the Shakespeare "translation" project here.

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