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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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~by Julia Perlowski
(title quote from Henry IV, part 2)

In my high school honors English class, my well-meaning teacher decided to have us read Macbeth.  I was thrilled.  I had been in classes where teachers played records of famous Shakespearean monologues read by famous people with thick British accents.   Who can forget “Oh, pardon me thou bleeding piece of flesh that I am meek and gentle with these butchers!” out of the mouth of Marlon Brando?   Yikes!  If that is not enough to scare a child, I don’t know what is!  However, in this honors class we sat in desks in neat little rows and were asked which of us would like what part.  I wanted Macbeth!  I really did.  I had some fIuency with early modern English as I heard it from my mother’s mouth at bedtime and read it aloud in our family den when no one was looking.  The part initially went to Bruce Holsinger, who was the smartest boy in the school, now Professor of Music and English at University of Virginia. When Bruce needed a break and it was discovered that there was not another great male reader in the class, the part went to me.  I had a blast, and was quite pleased with myself, as was Bruce, that we were granted the coveted parts.  As a teacher of drama, reading and English, teaching Shakespeare in all of those classes since 2006, I now know that only 4 out of 35 kids “covet” those parts.  The rest are scared stiff or could not care less.  And, the kids who have a mild interest in Shakespeare don’t have much to do until they are finally prompted to say…”Here’s knocking indeed!”

I want to share a simple method, learned at the Folger and use extensively in my classrooms, to get ALL kids reading Shakespeare in a relatively short period of time, even with scenes where only two or three characters are speaking, even with monologues and soliloquies. Here it is:  Number the text.

That’s it!  A bulk of the good teaching methods with performative text relies on numbering lines in such a way that most kids get to have a go!  Most of my classes contain 30 students.  Most of my planning time consists of solving math problems in order to configure groups:  15 groups of 2; or, 2 groups of 15; or, 6 groups of 5, as well as numbering dialogue for maximum student performance time.  Consider this bit of dialogue from  Act 1, Scene 1 of Romeo and Juliet:

1 ABRAHAM:  Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?

2 SAMPSON:  I do bite my thumb, sir.

3 ABRAHAM:  Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?

4  SAMPSON:  [Aside to GREGORY] Is the law of our side, if I say ay?

5 GREGORY:  No.

6 SAMPSON:  No, sir, I do not bite my thumb at you, sir, but I bite my thumb, sir.

7 GREGORY:  Do you quarrel, sir?

8 ABRAHAM:  Quarrel sir! no, sir.

9 SAMPSON:  If you do, sir, I am for you: I serve as good a man as you.

10 ABRAHAM:   No better.

11 SAMPSON:  Well, sir.

12 GREGORY:  Say ‘better:’ here comes one of my master’s kinsmen.

13 SAMPSON:  Yes, better, sir.

14 ABRAHAM:   You lie.

15 SAMPSON:   Draw, if you be men.

EVERYONE:  DOWN WITH THE CAPULETS!  DOWN WITH THE MONTAGUES!

PRINCE:

(1) Rebellious subjects, enemies to peace,
On pain of torture, from those bloody hands
Throw your mistemper’d weapons to the ground,
And hear the sentence of your moved prince.
(2) Three civil brawls, bred of an airy word,
By thee, old Capulet, and Montague,
Have thrice disturb’d the quiet of our streets,
If ever you disturb our streets again,
Your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace.

With the script numbered in this way, here are some possibilities for enactment in a class of 30 where all are involved:

1.  LINE VOLLEY:  Half the class can enact the EVEN numbered lines, the other half, the ODD numbered lines.  Lines will be spoken alternately between the lines.   One or more students can intervene as the Prince.

2.  ENSEMBLE SCENE:  Two groups of fifteen students can enact the scene each having their own line.   The part of the Prince may be read by all in unison…or by one person if one of the students takes two lines.

3.  3-D SHAKESPEARE:  Four students may perform the speaking parts of this scene with the rest of the class serving as directors with the teacher  facilitating between the actors and the audience asking the hard questions.  Who is here when the scene starts?

One of the most effective teaching days I had with this particular bit of numbered script consisted of a line volley with 45 students.  There were so many bodies that we “staged” the scene in two aisles of the audience across the middle orchestra seats.  Students delivered contentious lines as they climbed over seats brandishing rolled up scripts, eyeballing the enemies from the other side.

DoYouBite

In another part of the country, two 3rd grade boys share the Prince’s speech:

How do YOU do the math?

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