Thursday, June 22, 2006

On the Shakespearean term for "gettin' it on"

Okay, so educators in are (understandably, I think) up in arms about new versions of Shakespeare's classics that take "dumbing down" to a new and outrageous low.
Examiners recently complained that teenagers are approaching Shakespeare's plays as if they are TV soap operas, peppering their essays with conversational cliches and references to popular culture.

Coordination Group Publications, which describes itself as one of the country's most popular educational publishers, produces a series of complete plays of Shakespeare and revision guides.

The first page of the complete play of Romeo and Juliet states that 'reading Shakespeare can be a real headache'.

And don't think this is just another one of the usual colloquial and/or simplified versions used to help students better understand Shakesperean language. Oh, no. Thanks to the CGP versions of the plays, we get a lot of interesting translations.

Romeo and Juliet, Act One, Scene Five, is the big first-kiss scene. Rome kisses Juliet and declares,
Thus from my lips, by thine, my sin is purg'd.
... which scene, in the CGP version, becomes:
Juliet: What are you thinking about?
Romeo: Oh, just moons and spoon in June.
Juliet: Wow. Give us a snog then.

Same play, Act Three, Scene Five, Juliet wakes up next to Romeo and says:
Wilt thou be gone? It is not yet near day. It was the nightingale, and not the lark That pierc'd the fearful hollow of thine ear. Nightly she sings on yond pomegranate tree. Believe me, love, it was the nightingale.
... unless she says:
Well that was nice. You'd best be off now.

Macbeth, Act Two, Scene One, where Macbeth sees the dagger that he'll shortly use to stab his father:
Is this a dagger, which I see before me, The handle toward my hand?
... which becomes:
Ooh! Would you look at that!
... after which he stabs his father and exclaims, "Eat dagger, old man!"

Not even kidding.

Some would decry the loss of Shakespeare's innate poetry. Some would complain that the act of learning Shakespearean language and decoding the plays themselves teaches students to think critically and stretch their brains a bit to accept ideas that don't, on first glance, seem to make sense.

I wonder what will happen to flirting.

I mean, come on. What guy hasn't, at at least one point in his life, pulled out a little bit of Shakespeare in one way or another? Who hasn't taken a girl to a Shakespeare play that he didn't particularly like or even care about, just to make him seem deep and sensitive? Has the most tenacious among you, perhaps, even managed to pull out, "Her beauty makes / This vault a feasting presence full of light"?

"Parting is such sweet sorrow." "What's in a name?" "To be or not to be." These are the remnants of our high school years that we pull out only in those situations where we need to appear more intelligent and/or charming. "Give us a snog then"? We can get that anywhere (anywhere vaguely British, anyway). Give us back our pretentious, high-toned language, for it is all that we have to pretend to be more than we are.

Alas and alack.

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