The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0638  Tuesday, 9 March 2004

From:           Harry G. Rusche <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
                Al Magary <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
                Richard Burt <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Monday, 08 Mar 2004 12:53:42 -0500
Subject:        "Beware March 15!" but No Fear Shakespeare

To read or not to read
New Shakespeare translations are the question
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 03/07/04


"Et tu, Brute?"

Not anymore.

"And you too, Brutus?" is what students read in a new genre of study
guides that modernize the Elizabethan English found in "Julius Caesar"
and other plays by William Shakespeare.

These guides move beyond the plot summaries found in other study aides
by providing line-by-line translations in modern-day English.

Once barred from school, the new translations now are being used in
classes across metro Atlanta.

But not everyone thinks they belong there. Some educators say the beauty
of Shakespeare rests in the writer's eloquence and poetry - something
missing in the translations.

"Shakespeare without language is like a movie without sound," said Paul
Voss, who teaches Shakespeare at Georgia State University.

The translated study guides can be found in a class for struggling
readers at one Fayette County high school. Henry County teachers also
assigned it to students with lower reading skills. And some DeKalb
County high school teachers use it as a supplement.

Shakespeare can intimidate students because of unfamiliar syntax and
strange character names. Modernized versions give students the
confidence to tackle the work, said Connie Kollias, who had her
sophomores at Sandy Creek High in Fayette read a translated "Julius
Caesar" aloud in class.

"We're not dumbing down lessons for these students," Kollias said. "We
are giving them tools that allow them to do the same work as everyone else."

"Tut, I am in their bosoms, and I know wherefore they do it."
- Act 5, Scene 1.

"I know how they think, and I understand why they're doing this."
- Same scene, "No Fear Shakespeare" translation.

Leon Allen, a student in Kollias' class, didn't understand the original
line. But he read the translated sentence aloud with ease.

"It's nice because all those ancient words aren't there," he said. "It
is a cool story - what with people making plans to kill one another. It
can be difficult because everyone has strange names, but at least it
isn't using any of those old words anymore."

Many students associate Shakespeare with images of actors reciting the
Bard's poetry, dressed in Elizabethan garb - similar to a performance by
the Atlanta Shakespeare Company in Midtown.

But in a classroom at Sandy Creek, the modern language used in the "No
Fear Shakespeare" version of "Julius Caesar" fits the T-shirt and
denim-wearing students.

There, students volunteered to read aloud. Some cheered and booed the

While impressed by the students' enthusiasm, some university professors
worry that the translations imply that Shakespeare is too distant from
modern language.

Sujata Iyengar, a professor of Shakespeare and Renaissance literature at
the University of Georgia, didn't say the lessons were dumbed down, but
she was concerned. Students need to understand that Shakespearean
English was meant to stand apart from everyday speech, she said.

"Translations can be used as a wonderful tool to get students excited,"
she said, "but it does not replace Shakespeare's poetry."

"Beware the ides of March."
- Act 1, Scene 2.

"Beware of March 15."
- Same scene, "No Fear Shakespeare" translation.

Teachers use texts such as the "No Fear Shakespeare" series published by
SparkNotes or Barron's "Shakespeare Made Easy."

John Crowther, editor of SparkNotes, agreed with educators that the
essence of Shakespeare is language, which is why the original and
translated versions are side-by-side.

Modern language is found on all the right-side pages of the book. Pages
on the left contain the original text.

"The idea is to make it possible for students to dig into the language
themselves," said Crowther, a former teacher.

"If you have students who are struggling readers, it is laudable to
expose them to Shakespeare, but the language can be difficult and quite
beyond their reach."

At Sandy Creek, Kollias teaches students who are on track to attend
college but have poor reading skills.

As freshmen, the students read the original version of "Romeo and
Juliet." Kollias said the sophomores had a hard time understanding the
more complex language in "Julius Caesar." The translations let them
focus on plot and character motives, she said.

While her students read the translated text of the play, Kollias had
them study the famous speeches in both versions. They discussed how
language can be used to manipulate a crowd.

"Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears. I come to bury Caesar,
not to praise him. The evil that men do lives after them; The good is
oft interred with their bones."
- Act 3, Scene 2.

"Friends, Romans, countrymen, give me your attention. I have come here
to bury Caesar, not to praise him. The evil that men do is remembered
after their deaths, but the good is often buried with them."
- Same scene, "No Fear Shakespeare" translation.

As the class read the famous speech, Tia Powers leaned forward in her
seat as if she were trying to jump into the book.

The story is so suspenseful, she said she would have read it in the
original text.

"But this means I don't have to think so hard about what the words mean
and I can just relax and enjoy the story more," she said. ". . .And I am
having a lot more fun reading it."

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