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Shakespeare: Original Language vs. Translations . . . Does it matter?

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 

Shakespeare has always gone over my head so I will defer to those of you in the know.

 

How important is it to read/understand Shakespeare in the way he wrote it, vs. line by line translations? 

 

Does it just depend on WHY one is reading Shakespeare to begin with, or is something lost by not reading it in the original text?

 

This is the kind of translation I am referring to: Twelfth Night

 

TIA!

 

 

post #2 of 10

I say it depends entirely on why you're reading it.

 

When my kids were quite young (under 10, say) I chose to read them Shakespeare Stories by Leon Garfield to make the stories accessible to them, and enjoyable. And I exposed them to Lois Burdett's retellings of several of his plays ... because they introduce at a very basic level the meter and poetic flow of the original language, albeit in a very simplified retelling.

 

When they returned to Shakespeare when they were older (13 and up), part of the reason was to learn about Shakespeare's language -- and that would have been lost in translation. They enjoyed "decoding," adding to their vocabularies, discovering etymological connections, and finding the meaning of the story in the poetry of the arcane language. 

 

And really, these are plays. Until performances of translations become the norm, I think it's essential to come to grips with the language in order to enjoy the plays. We've been lucky enough to partake of "Bard on the Beach," "Shakespeare in the Park" and "Theatre in the Round" productions -- as well as DVD productions. I don't think they would have been as enjoyable if we hadn't learned to understand the language.

 

Nonetheless, the link you gave seems like a pretty decent translation. Perhaps it would serve some as a useful stepping stone to the original.

 

Miranda

post #3 of 10
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by moominmamma View Post

I say it depends entirely on why you're reading it.

 

 

This time, it's in preparation to see the play.  I got DD the original and translated versions on Wed., and the play is tomorrow-- Friday.  Not much time (oops!).  She read most of the original (no notes in it, unfortunately) and half of the translated version last night.  She said she liked the translated version more-- filled in parts she didn't get in the original. 

 

My sister tells me that Shakespeare is meant to be read aloud no matter what, and I would think seeing the play live/on DVD would help, too . . .but I think next time if I get the original it will at least be one with notes in it.  If I read any of his plays, though, I think I'll stick with the translated version.  Too much thinking for me otherwise. Sheepish.gif  I read in the review that Shakespeare never meant for people to have to think too hard to understand, though, so I guess it's OK for my purposes to be lazy, since I'm not seeing the play?  

post #4 of 10
post #5 of 10

I am all for translations, adaptations, Cliff Notes, Marcia Williams.  The original language can be so tricky, even for those bold (or crazy) enough to read it straight for their kids, let alone the kids themselves.  Snippets are great, however, and can let the reader roll the words around on their tongue.  The best would allow you to immerse yourself into the story without having "annotated" interruptions.

 

While I don't know of any plays that are translated, we do have hundreds of adaptations-- West Side Story, etc.  So while the language is important, the stories are paramount.  In school I thought reading the Cliff Notes was cheating (and back then we were made to feel that way by the teachers) and I missed so much (and I was a theater major once!)  Now, reading Marcia Williams' excellent illustrated tales (best for 5-12yo, I think), my nearly 7-yo has a better understanding of the plays than I ever had.  She loves Hamlet and MacBeth and Richard III and Antony and Cleopatra and Midsummer Night's Dream.  And since MW includes little snippets of the original language, I sometimes hear my daughter speaking like that in her imaginative play.

 

BTW, I'm loving all the other suggestions here!  I'm adding them to our library list right now.

post #6 of 10
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mizelenius View Post

 

 

My sister tells me that Shakespeare is meant to be read aloud no matter what, and I would think seeing the play live/on DVD would help, too . . .but I think next time if I get the original it will at least be one with notes in it.  If I read any of his plays, though, I think I'll stick with the translated version.  Too much thinking for me otherwise. Sheepish.gif  I read in the review that Shakespeare never meant for people to have to think too hard to understand, though, so I guess it's OK for my purposes to be lazy, since I'm not seeing the play?  

Acting in Shakespeare's day was much broader in style, melodramatic, "hammy" if you will.  I think this helps to illustrate the action on the stage.  In modern times, the comedies best preserve this style, giving the actors permission to use that broad style that would seem silly to us in a tragedy.  Hopefully the actors in the play your dd is going to see will help the audience along.  The best will use clever blocking to emphasize the dialogue.  Most Shakespeare I've seen is... um... less than... um.... OK, pretty awful, really.  As an actor you finally learn what the hell you are saying, then you rattle it off confidently, forgetting that the audience has no idea what you are saying most of the time.  Slowing the dialogue down helps when I read snippets to my girls, placing the pauses in the right place, allowing the listener time to digest the meaning a little before moving on.  (An impossibility for a production-- imagine a 6 hr play!)
 

 

post #7 of 10

Probably too late to help, but with my kids I would get a book on CD of the play we were doing, our library had some by a great acting company..and would read the Charles and Mary Lamb translations as it is in story format and yet, as it was written in the 20's the language hasn't been to "dumbed down"

post #8 of 10
Thread Starter 

I have more to write so I'll be back . . .just wondering if anyone knows (and maybe it's one of the ones you've recommended already) of a book that has the original stories of Shakespeare  . . .ones he did NOT write but they are what he based his work on?  My DD read this a few yrs ago and really liked it.  I want to get it for my other DD but I can't remember the title!

post #9 of 10
Quote:
Originally Posted by SweetSilver View Post



Acting in Shakespeare's day was much broader in style, melodramatic, "hammy" if you will.  I think this helps to illustrate the action on the stage.  In modern times, the comedies best preserve this style, giving the actors permission to use that broad style that would seem silly to us in a tragedy.  Hopefully the actors in the play your dd is going to see will help the audience along.  The best will use clever blocking to emphasize the dialogue.  Most Shakespeare I've seen is... um... less than... um.... OK, pretty awful, really.  As an actor you finally learn what the hell you are saying, then you rattle it off confidently, forgetting that the audience has no idea what you are saying most of the time.  Slowing the dialogue down helps when I read snippets to my girls, placing the pauses in the right place, allowing the listener time to digest the meaning a little before moving on.  (An impossibility for a production-- imagine a 6 hr play!)
 

 

Most of my extended family work or have worked in theatre in some capacity and I was told this story as a teen (so long ago I can't even remember which family member told me, let alone who the teacher was)...a famous acting teacher/coach visiting for a workshop said that if you are trying to find the right inflection for a Shakespeare line then say it with the word "F*#^k!" in between every word. Then say it again without but with the same inflection that came naturally with the swearing. Try it - the results are quite enlightening smile.gif

My gut response to the thread title was "of course it has to be the original" but I do agree it depends upon why you are reading it. An annotated copy is pretty much essential though.

Hope she enjoys the performance.
post #10 of 10
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Greenmama2 View Post


Most of my extended family work or have worked in theatre in some capacity and I was told this story as a teen (so long ago I can't even remember which family member told me, let alone who the teacher was)...a famous acting teacher/coach visiting for a workshop said that if you are trying to find the right inflection for a Shakespeare line then say it with the word "F*#^k!" in between every word. Then say it again without but with the same inflection that came naturally with the swearing. Try it - the results are quite enlightening smile.gif
My gut response to the thread title was "of course it has to be the original" but I do agree it depends upon why you are reading it. An annotated copy is pretty much essential though.
Hope she enjoys the performance.

That is too funny!  I can just imagine!

 

And SweetSilver, I thought about what you said (hamming it up!) when DD told me about the play.  My mom said DD laughed the whole time . . .and apparently one of the actors forgot his lines, the sword fighting almost pushed the actors into the audience, etc. so they did have a great time!

 

I will definitely be getting the resources that everyone has mentioned-- so many out there that it is such a time-saver to have the BTDT advice and I won't have to start from scratch!   If anyone has a recommendation for a good annotated version/series, please let me know!

 

Thank you!


 

 

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