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Archive for the ‘“Translation”’ Category

Guest post by Jessica Lander

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, after the murder of Duncan. R. T. Bone. Courtesy of Folger Shakespeare Library.

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, after the murder of Duncan. R. T. Bone. Courtesy of Folger Shakespeare Library.

The large dented cauldrons of spicy green curry, red curry and duck soup were cloaked in hovering fog and steamy air of the monsoon season.  It was evening at the Gate Market in the heart of the old city of Chiang Mai, in Northern Thailand. As I slurped a bowl of noodles so spicy it induced tears, all I could think about was Macbeth.

Three days fresh from college graduation, I had boarded a plane bound for a one-year teaching fellowship at the prestigious Chiang Mai University.  Growing up, my favorite musical was Rodger’s and Hammerstein’s The King and I, the story of Anna, hired by the King of Thailand to tutor the royal children. I was forever singing the lyrics to Getting to Know You, beginning with Anna’s declaration that “When you become a teacher, by your students you’ll be taught.” Now, heading to classes as a young teacher, I could not help but think of Anna.

By day I guided a hundred and fifty university students in my elementary-level English classes through the intricacies of usage between “say” and “tell”.  But, I wanted something more: I wanted to teach theater.  So, I approached my colleagues in the English Department with an ambitious plan. The students in the university’s English Club staged an annual play in English – Cinderella last year.  Hesitantly, I proposed to direct Macbeth – my favorite Shakespeare ever since I played the First Witch and Macduff’s doomed son in a 7th grade production.  The department was dubious – the language would be too difficult.  I persisted.  Auditions were set.

But our real challenge was not the play’s language, but its content. In one of the last countries with a revered king, I was preparing to stage a regicide.

While monarchies worldwide have become nearly obsolete, the Kingdom of Thailand’s ruling line remains robust.  King Bhumibol Adulyadej, or Rama IX, has sat on the throne longer than any other current ruler.  He is the great-great-great grandson of the famed monarch who had hired Anna.

Arriving in Chiang Mai, I discovered that The King and I was banned. The king is endowed with near-divine status, and is protected from slander by strict lese majeste laws: Anna’s irreverence to the king crossed the line.  Adapting Macbeth would not be as simple as robing Shakespeare’s characters in traditional Lanna-style sarongs.

I found that Thai students were reluctant to engage in open political discourse. In college classes in the U.S., I had been inspired by the boundary-defying nature of theater. I wanted to draw my students into political discussion, to have them think critically about the parallels and differences between East and West.  Yet it was crucial we remain respectful of the monarchy and of Thai cultural traditions.

We began adapting Shakespeare.  Macbeth, the Thane of Cawdor, and the other thanes would be Thai politicians. The ghostly apparitions would be conjured through Thai shadow puppetry.  The witches became street children, who sell jasmine garlands at night across Chiang Mai.

We erred on the side of caution.  We nixed the colors red and yellow, being too closely associated to the two rival political parties, and opted for a neutral orange. We modified the traditional Thai sword on our poster, because it resembled the weapons favored by the monarchy.  When I suggested that the play end with Macduff placing a foot on the severed head of the Scottish tyrant, the actor, an otherwise modern and outspoken junior, refused.  In Thailand the head is the most sacred part of the body.  The feet are the lowliest. I dropped the idea quickly.

In the jungle gardens of the university, we discussed modern politics – twenty college students debating thanes and politicians.  One girl brought up corruption, relating how she had been offered bribes for her vote in a local election.  Another girl drew an analogy between the recently ousted Thai prime minister and Macbeth. After one rehearsal, a student caught me on the way out: “I hardly ever have these discussions with anyone but a few close friends.”

The night of the first performance arrived. The lights dimmed on Thai rock music, and three street children ran giggling onto the stage, asking: “When shall we three meet again?”

The following Monday, I met with my freshman English class who I had assigned to see the show.  I asked them to identify the Thai elements in the production – expecting such responses as: the attire, the puppetry, the traditional Thai greetings.

One girl raised her hand: “Macbeth’s final speech.”  She was referring to Macbeth’s final soliloquy: “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day… Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player…It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Confused, I pressed her to explain. “He’s describing the teachings of the Buddha.” Macbeth had finally realized the insignificance of his vaulting ambition – a first step toward enlightenment in Buddhism. I was dumbfounded.  I had read Macbeth, studied Macbeth and acted in Macbeth – never once had I drawn the parallel.

Miss Anna had gotten it right. I had set out to teach my students Shakespeare.  But, in the end, by my students I was taught.

 

Jessica Lander is a teacher and writer in Cambridge, MA.  She has taught, among other things, Shakespeare and critical thinking to college students in the Cambodian Capital of Phnom Penh and the northern city of Chiang Mai, Thailand. Closer to home she has taught math and Shakespeare to 6th graders in the Boston inner city.  She has written for the Boston Globe Magazine and keeps an education blog, Chalk Dust: http://jessicalander.blogspot.com

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Opening weekend has come and gone for Julian Fellowes’s new version of Romeo and Juliet in cinemas, and the numbers were not good.

I wouldn’t bring this up again so soon, but for a quote from Fellowes which appeared in an article from BBC News last week:

“When people say we should have filmed the original, I don’t attack them for that point of view, but to see the original in its absolutely unchanged form, you require a kind of Shakespearian scholarship and you need to understand the language and analyse it and so on.

“I can do that because I had a very expensive education, I went to Cambridge. Not everyone did that and there are plenty of perfectly intelligent people out there who have not been trained in Shakespeare’s language choices.”

My mind ground to a halt reading that. I went quite speechless (except for the occasional squeak or screech or indignant huff.) Is he serious? The NY Times tried to give him the benefit of the doubt, preceding this quote thusly: “With tongue presumably in cheek or perhaps just a foot deep in mouth,” but still I reel at this presumption. How grossly can you underestimate your audience?

A richly furnished Cambridge education is not what’s needed to revel in understanding of Shakespeare’s verses. It’s exposure to the language itself: put into action, spoken aloud, seen in performance, played with.

It seems, so far, that at least some reviewers agree that this pandering approach isn’t working:

“why not encourage the tween audience to rise to the language rather than hide the words from them?”
~ The Village Voice

“If this “Romeo & Juliet” were better, fierier or juicier, far less polite and rather more unhinged, it would be easier to ignore Mr. Fellowes’s ideas about the intelligence of his audience.”
~ The NY Times

“The Fellowes defence is that he’s writing for a new generation, who need the play livened up a bit. In the shonky hands of Italian director Carlo Carlei, his dutiful pastiche has quite the opposite effect.”
~The Telegraph

And yet – I still wouldn’t have so much ire towards this if Fellowes had simply owned  his adaptation and felt sufficiently comfortable to put his name in front of the title instead of Shakespeare’s. Sure, Shakespeare’s name sells, but don’t the names Romeo and Juliet have a little selling-power of their own? Why rely on the writer you’ve cut from the project? Shakespeare was an adapter, as I’ve mentioned before. So why hide behind him if you’re only going to push him out of the way because you think people are too stupid to understand his words?

What do you think? Were any of you one of the few who saw this film over its opening weekend? Do you plan to see it before it closes?

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It seems we’re not alone in our disappointment with Julian Fellowes’s adaptation of Romeo and Juliet (sans Shakespeare’s words). While the language still sounds lofty, they’re not Shakespeare’s word choices – and that’s a big deal.

R&J Posters - Shall I Compare Thee to a Quarto

Terry Guerin suggested in the comments that one of the quotes was perhaps based on First or Second Quarto language – which made me think that maybe Fellowes was working from an early text instead of the ones with which we’re more familiar. So I went to the library sherpa, Alan Katz, who linked me to the texts in the Luna database so I could reference them from the comfort of my own desk (where I can still consume coffee and cookies – unlike in the Reading Rooms!).

Using images of each page from a 1597 First Quarto and 1599 Second Quarto, I ran through the quoted lines from the Fellowes trailer again. The results for a few notable differences are below, but this reminded me so strongly of a really cool video segment and activity idea from our 2012 Electronic Field Trip, that I just have to share that first:

In this clip, Dr. Gail Kern Paster speaks about how comparing two texts of the same play is useful for editors as they make their choices about what language to use when they create their edition of the play, and she references these two Quartos. On page 4 of the accompanying teaching guide for this program, we included images of the passages Dr. Paster references for students to compare in their own classrooms.

It becomes obvious, below, that Fellowes’ “translation” is not even close to First or Second quarto language, and is actually closer to that blasted “no fear” than anything else – which I’ve included, too.

What do these comparisons make you think? What’s gained and lost with each iteration?

Fellowes: On honor of my blood, I’ll strike him dead
First Quarto: Now by the stocke and honor of my kin, To strike him dead I hold it for no sin.
Second Quarto: Now by the stocke and honor of my kin, To strike him dead, I hold it not a sin
Folger Edition: Now, by the stock and honor of my kin, To strike him dead I hold it not a sin.
No Fear: Now, by the honor of our family, I do not consider it a crime to kill him.

Fellowes: [Juliet, if your heart like mine is full then tell the joy that weights us this night,]
I cannot tell of what is limitless.
First Quarto: NOT FOUND
Second Quarto: My bountie is as boundlesse as the sea, My love as deep, the more give to thee The more I have, for both are infinite:
Folger Edition: My bounty as boundless as the sea, My love as deep. The more I give to thee, The more I have, for both are infinite
No Fear: My generosity to you is as limitless as the sea, and my love is as deep. The more love I give you, the more I have. Both loves are infinite.

Fellowes: Romeo! Come settle with me, boy!
First Quarto: Bace boy this cannot serve thy turn, and therefore drawe.
Second Quarto: Boy, this shall not excuse the injuries That thou hast done me, therefore turn and draw.
Folger Edition: Boy, this shall not excuse the injuries That thou hast done me; therefore turn and draw.
No Fear: Boy, your words can’t excuse the harm you’ve done to me. So now turn and draw your sword.

Fellowes: What have I done but murdered my tomorrow?
First Quarto: Ah, I am fortunes slave.
Second Quarto: O I am fortunes fool.
Folger Edition: O, I am Fortune’s fool!
No Fear: Oh, I have awful luck.

Fellowes: Then you are mine no more, so help me God.
First Quarto: If you be mine, I’ll give you to my friend: If not, hang, drowne, starve, beg, Dye in the streets: for by my Soule Ile never more acknowledge thee, Nor what I have shall ever doe thee good, Thinke ont, look toot, I doe not vie to jest.
Second Quarto: And you be mine, Ile give you to my friend, And you be not, hang, beg, starve, dye in the streets, For by my soul ile nere acknowledge thee, Nor what is mine shall never do thee good: Trust too’t, bethink you, ile not be forsworne.
Folger Edition: An you be mine, I’ll give you to my friend. An you be not, hang, beg, starve, die in the streets, For, by my soul, I’ll ne’er acknowledge thee, Nor what is mine shall never do thee good. Trust to ’t; bethink you. I’ll not be forsworn.
No Fear: If you act like my daughter, I’ll marry you to my friend. If you don’t act like my daughter, you can beg, starve, and die in the streets. I swear on my soul, I will never take you back or do anything for you. Believe me. Think about it. I won’t break this promise.

Fellowes: Take this vial… and drink through the last drop… and there will be no sign of life within you.
First Quarto: take thou this Violl, And this distilled Liquor drinke thou off: … No sign of breath shall testifie thou livst.
Second Quarto: Take thou this violl…And this distilling liquor drink thou off,… No warmth, no breast shall testify thou livest.
Folger Edition: Take thou this vial… And this distilling liquor drink thou off… No warmth, no breath shall testify thou livest.
No Fear: take this vial, mix its contents with liquor, and drink… Your flesh will be cold, and you’ll stop breathing… It will seem like you’re dead

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Well, that’s a disappoinment.

A closer watch of the trailer for the upcoming Romeo and Juliet adapted by Julian Fellowes reveals that the play has not only been adapted as a screenplay (which is all well and good), but has also had its language adapted. Sneakily, too, it took awhile for the differences from the lines used in the trailer to sink in.

And it wouldn’t be such a disappointment if it weren’t being advertised as:

R&J Trailer Still

R&J Trailer Still 2

Adaptation is a fine thing – it can illuminate the play in ways we never expected. Luhrman’s Romeo+Juliet, while garish and dizzying, gave us a new context for the play and a feeling of vitality and importance though we’ve all known the outcome of the story forever. I honestly cannot see the point of an adaptation in which little to none of the original text is used and it’s set in an all-too-familiar setting. It looks exactly like the lavish Italian set of the famous Zeffirelli film, yet the language is ever-so-slightly (and not-so slightly) tweaked. And why? For time? For clarity? What is the purpose of these textual edits? And why, then, advertise it as Shakespeare’s?

I went through the trailer and picked out the lines used, then looked up what I believed to be their equivalents in the Folger Digital Texts to compare what’s being said. For some, it’s a simple word that’s been changed. For others, it’s an entire phrase that’s been re-edited for some reason.

“On honor of my blood, I’ll strike him dead”
vs “Now, by the stock and honor of my kin, To strike him dead I hold it not a sin.”

“I would not let any harm beset him in my house.”
vs: I would not for the wealth of all this town Here in my house do him disparagement.

“Juliet, if your heart like mine is full then tell the joy that weights us this night,”
“I cannot tell of what is limitless.”
vs: “My bounty as boundless as the sea, My love as deep. The more I give to thee, The more I have, for both are infinite”

“These violent passions can have violent ends.”
vs: “These violent delights have violent ends.”

“Then you are mine no more, so help me God.”
vs: “An you be mine, I’ll give you to my friend. An you be not, hang, beg, starve, die in the streets, For, by my soul, I’ll ne’er acknowledge thee, Nor what is mine shall never do thee good. Trust to ’t; bethink you. I’ll not be forsworn.”

“What have I done but murdered my tomorrow?”
vs: “O, I am Fortune’s fool!”

“There is no world beyond this city’s walls. Just purgatory… Heaven is here where Juliet lives. Every unworthy thing may look on her but Romeo may not.”
vs: “There is no world without Verona walls But purgatory, torture, hell itself… Heaven is here Where Juliet lives, and every cat and dog And little mouse, every unworthy thing, Live here in heaven and may look on her, But Romeo may not.”

“A greater power than we can contradict has thwarted all our plans.”
vs “A greater power than we can contradict Hath thwarted our intents.”
(not too bad, but is Friar Lawrence really saying that to Romeo? That’s supposed to be his line to Juliet in the tomb.)

“O, Furtune Fortune, send him back to me.”
vs: “O Fortune, Fortune, all men call thee fickle. If thou art fickle, what dost thou with him That is renowned for faith? Be fickle, Fortune, For then I hope thou wilt not keep him long, But send him back.”

“Take this vial… and drink through the last drop… and there will be no sign of life within you.”
vs: “Take thou this vial… And this distilling liquor drink thou off… No warmth, no breath shall testify thou livest.”

“Give me my Romeo. And when he shall die, cut him out in little stars. He will make the face of heaven so fine that all the world will be in love with night.”
vs:
“Give me my Romeo, and when I shall die, Take him and cut him out in little stars, And he will make the face of heaven so fine That all the world will be in love with night.”

This is a topic we keep coming back to:

“Bless thee, Thou Art Translated”
“Shakespeare… in Other Words”
“All Students Deserve Shakespeare”
“More to Fear from No Fear”

And it was addressed in our May 14th Webinar, of which you can watch an archived recording: Shakespeare in Other Words.

What do you think? What could the purpose of this sly translation be? What is lost or gained by these edits? How could it affect the way the audience perceives Shakespeare?

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