To be alive or to be dead

SparkNotes — written by Harvard students or people who know Harvard students — is competing with CliffsNotes for the “study guide” market. But, despite the Harvard snob appeal, it’s the same old summaries, themes and symbols, writes James Bowman in the Wall Street Journal.

“No Fear Shakespeare” translates the Bard into modern, middle-class English.

“The question is: is it better to be alive or dead? Is it nobler to put up with all the nasty things that luck throws your way, or to fight against all those troubles by simply putting an end to them once and for all? Dying, sleeping — that’s all dying is — a sleep that ends all the heartache and shocks that life on earth gives us — that’s an achievement to wish for. To die, to sleep–to sleep, maybe to dream. Ah, but there’s the catch: in death’s sleep who knows what kind of dreams might come, after we’ve shaken off the flesh from our souls. That’s certainly something to worry about . . .”

Bowman points out that “nasty things” is not the same as “slings and arrows,” nor is “earth gives us” an equivalent of “flesh is heir to.” “Consummation” doesn’t mean “achievement” and “coil” doesn’t mean “flesh.”

On the other hand, it’s quite true that the Wife of Bath’s husband wasn’t named Bath.

Update: Here’s a gloss on Romeo and Juliet, forwarded by Tom Crispin.

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