It’s not “dumbing down,” writes Bill Rauch, the festival’s artistic director. “We have the opportunity to delve more deeply into the language of the texts and to create companion pieces (not replacements) to the original texts.”
OSF will produce the 37-play Shakespeare canon — with the original text — for the fifth time by 2024, he writes. In addition, one or more translations may be produced.
“There are shocking and glorious layers embedded in some of the language that are only accessible to most people by footnotes,” says Rauch. “The clarity we aspire to get from the translations will make us better appreciate the vibrancy of the original.”
After all, Rauch argues, “West Side Story didn’t replace Romeo & Juliet. Happily, it expanded the theatrical canon.”
“I’ll just be really honest to say I can’t understand all of it all the time,” Lue Douthit, OSF’s director of literary development and dramaturgy, tells NPR.
Most Shakespeare products are adaptations, she says. Scenes are cut for length. Settings are changed to new time periods. But changing the language is different, say critics. A rose by any other name wouldn’t smell as sweet.
“Shakespeare is about the intoxicating richness of the language,” says James Shapiro, a Shakespeare scholar and English professor at Columbia University. “It’s like the beer I drink; I drink 8.2 percent IPA. And by changing the language in this modernizing way, it’s basically shifting to Bud Light.”
Playwright Kenneth Cavander was asked to translate Timon of Athens.
Slaves and fools,
Pluck the grave wrinkled senate from the bench
And minister in their steads. To general filths
Convert o’th’ instant, green virginity,
Do’t in your parents’ eyes. Bankrupts, hold fast;
Rather than render back, out with your knives
And cut your trusters’ throats! Bound servants, steal:
Large-handed robbers your grave masters are
And pill by law.
And clowns, kick the grizzled old senators
Out of their offices and legislate in their place …
Innocent virgins, turn sluttish now — why wait? —
And do it while your parents watch … Bankrupt?
Keep your money, and if your creditors demand
Payment, pick up a knife and cut their throats.
Workers, steal — your bosses are crooks
In fine suits, bandits raking in their loot,
I have to say that “to general filths, convert o’th’ instant, green virginity” makes a lot more sense in the modern version. On the other hand, why lose “grave wrinkled?”