‘From now on, Shakespeare’s language can be fun, easy and exciting!’
About time! For all these years the old boy’s been famous only for being dull, difficult and boring, but now No Sweat Shakespeare offers us the plays and sonnets ‘translated’ into modern English and available as teen-novel e-books! Here’s the like totally awesome opening of No Sweat's ‘Much Ado about Nothing’? Hold on to your hats!
It was a hot morning in Messina. The only thing that interrupted the clear blue of the sky was the wispy smoke that rose lazily from Mount Etna. As usual, the governor's villa was filled with young people enjoying themselves with music, sports and conversation. An ensemble of minstrels played and sang fashionable songs that they had brought from Florence; two muscular fellows wrestled, cheered on by a group of spectators of both sexes, while the garden was dotted with pairs and trios, sitting in the shade of the huge pines, chatting.
Could it get more fun, easy or exciting? It’s nearly as good as a Geoffrey Archer novel. Doesn’t that stuff about Mount Etna just make you shiver? Like the whole pizzeria could go up in flames any minute! The website promises us that ‘these modern language translations have all the excitement and tension of the original Shakespeare texts’, and so they do, so they do. Here’s the bit in Othello where Iago is scheming to get Cassio pissed so he’ll disgrace himself in company. The plan seems to be to get an honourable, manly soldier to curl up on a lady’s knee like a Bichon:
Iago couldn't believe his luck. Now if he could just make him have one glass, that, together with what he had already had, would make him as quarrelsome and offensive as a lapdog.The utter cad! That clunky syntax is the perfect reflection of Iago’s twisted thinking.
One of the main benefits of reading Shakespeare as a teen-novel e-book is that finally we get Shakespeare to say what he goddam means in plain, just-folks language. I mean, who the hell talks like this?
I pray thee, good Mercutio, let's retire:
The day is hot, the Capulets abroad,
And, if we meet, we shall not scape a brawl;
For now, these hot days, is the mad blood stirring.
Benvolio’s plea is ‘translated’ as:
‘If we bump into any of them there's bound to be a fight because the heat is stirring everyone up.’That’s more like it. I mean ‘For now, these hot days, is the mad blood stirring’ might make you feel uneasy, threatened by some innate male violence about to bubble up in and around you. Explaining that to kids would be plain irresponsible in today's society, and anyway, they would never be able to get their minds round that inversion of subject and verb in the last clause, poor mites. I suppose some pedantic types will complain that the original quote culminates with the evocative word 'stirring' and the 'translation' sort of peters out with the drippy adverbial 'up', but at least we lose the blood. Can't stand the mention of blood.
I noticed No Sweat have no e-book for ‘The Winter’s Tale’ yet, so I have started one for them and diffidently offer the first scene:
It was an icy cold evening in Sicilia. There was snow underfoot and a clear starry sky overhead, but there were cracks in the thin ice on the lake, making most married men whose best friends were visiting them really wary of skating. In his magnificent palace, dotted with beautifully dressed people exchanging the latest gossip in clusters, King Leontes, a good family man, was entertaining his friend King Polixenes of Bohemia. Minstrels sang all the latest madrigals and there were sumptuous pizzas and creamy zabagliones, and fine wines were being enjoyed responsibly by everyone over twenty-one.Got to go, it’s late. Parting is a sad but pleasant experience, but I need some sleep to knit the ravelled sleeve of care. That doesn't mean my sleeve really. You have to imagine I am thinking of my mind as a sleeve worn with worries, and sleep will knit up the holes. Get it? Yes, yes, I know I should just say what I mean. I'm going to bed.
Archidamus from Bohemia excused himself politely from the dining room, and in a quiet, splendid antechamber that was superbly furnished, he was wondering wistfully how his master could ever match this magnificent entertainment when Leontes came to Bohemia, as he was planning to, because it was time for him to do so, having scheduled it inexorably into his schedule for that coming summer. ‘We will give you wines to make you sleepy’ he twinkled chucklingly to Camillo, a splendid lord in Leontes’s court, who had followed him as he left the tastefully decorated dining room to check if there was anything wrong with the zabaglione. ‘Then you won’t notice how poor our hospitality is in comparison with yours.’
Of course, he was only joshing about the wines!