Back to the subject of Huck Finn for the moment, we have this NPR story that drags Shakespeare into the mix. Not to censor him, but to update him:
Now and then I have proposed that Shakespearean language, when spoken, is often nearly impossible to understand by someone who hasn’t read it beforehand, and that there should be editions that substitute modern words for ones that now require footnoting. The response each time is predictable: Shakespeare fans tear me to ribbons in public venues (while a bunch of people quietly write to me privately, saying that they agree with me!).
Yeah….we’re gonna need the names of that latter group, they have to turn in their membership cards.
For the umptymillionth time, Shakespeare is both poetry and literature. It is the Schrodinger’s Cat of words on a page. The minute you lock it down in either category, you destroy it in the other. If you think you’re allowed to change it, then you’re basically saying that it’s not poetry. You’re painting clothes on Botticelli’s Venus. It just don’t work.
To anybody that feels the need to get a modern translation of Shakespeare, I say help yourself to West Side Story, Lion King, and Ten Things I Hate About You. Because those clearly say “Shakespeare was all about the plot, so we’ll take that and then go off and do our own thing.” When you want Shakespeare for what it is meant to be, you have only one choice (and by choice I mean “privilege”), and that is to read the original.
I just don’t understand this “It’s too hard to understand, so we have to dumb it down” argument. Anyone reading this could, I’m sure, list 10 works of literature that are beyond the understanding of your average joe – anything from Stephen Hawking’s work on black holes, to Sir Isaac Newton’s Principia – where you can’t go down to the local bookstore and flip through half a dozen different “for Dummies” versions. Why is that? Why is it that we feel the need to destroy Shakespeare?
I think that’s the very great irony – it’s because we so desperately still *want* to understand him. Most people will go through their entire lives without a second thought to Stephen Hawking or Richard Feynman. But not read Shakespeare? What what? Tragedy! If Shakespeare gets in the way of you understanding Shakespeare, then we must *change Shakespeare*!
That hurts my brain.