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"Fair is foul, and foul is fair" the witches saucily spake.
November 22, 2005 12:04 PM   Subscribe

Does "A desert place. Thunder and lightning. Enter three Witches." just not satisfy your literary mind? You might enjoy a prose version of "Macbeth" instead (or some other adaptations of William's plays). The concept is not new; indeed, Charles and Mary Lamb publsihed in 1807 twenty adaptations of Shakespeare's plays designed for children and those of us who aren't fans of the iamb.
posted by DeepFriedTwinkies (35 comments total)

 
A toad croaked.

"My toad calls."


OK, I'm done.
posted by solistrato at 12:13 PM on November 22, 2005


Gah!
posted by Smedleyman at 12:19 PM on November 22, 2005


*scrubbing*
I'll never be clean again!
posted by Smedleyman at 12:20 PM on November 22, 2005


My eyes! The goggles do nothing!
posted by theinsectsarewaiting at 12:22 PM on November 22, 2005


"Forks of lightening exposed how barren this place was..."
So...forks of lighter color? Forks of the descent of the uterus into the pelvic cavity that occurs late in pregnancy?

Gotta be joking.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:22 PM on November 22, 2005


"The King was surround by lords and attendants of the court, whose helplessness made them fidget." Take that, Shakespeare!

I prefer this version of the Scottish play. It has ninjas.
posted by milquetoast at 12:24 PM on November 22, 2005


Now drunk with the elixir of evil they huddled closer to their cauldron, united in cruel conspiracy, and together chanted to the devils of ill omen.

So this is that Pajamas Media I've been hearing about?
posted by PlusDistance at 12:26 PM on November 22, 2005


A fierce salty wind came from the sea, covering an already bleak Scottish heath with a stinging dampness.Forks of lightening exposed how barren this place was.

Good God, why not just go all the way and start it with "It was a dark and stormy night?" (Bonus points if you work in "for it is in Scotland that our scene lies.") You can't see me, but I'm weeping.

Granted, Shakespeare can be a bit hard to follow when read, due to the slightly archaic language. Here's a tip to understanding Shakespeare's plays: they're plays. They're not meant to be read. They should be seen. Whatever difficulties the unfamiliar language may cause is more than made up for by the context provided by the tone of voice and actions of competent actors.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:29 PM on November 22, 2005 [1 favorite]


While we're at it, could someone please add some color to those old, drab looking movies like Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon?

. . . they what???

Crap.
posted by JeffK at 12:29 PM on November 22, 2005


C'mon Smedleyman, be nice. You know how self-conscious people get about choosing the right fork.
posted by PlusDistance at 12:30 PM on November 22, 2005


Welcome to Lynch Multimedia -
A free access site for teachers, parents and pupils. The site contains adaptations and originals of Shakespeare to enhance learning.


Oh God. MiHail was right. The education of the youth of amerika really is declining. This stuff reads like bad fanfic.
posted by Gator at 12:48 PM on November 22, 2005


I recommend the Shakespeare Made Easy series which has the original text on one side and a modern language paraphrasing on the the other. You can read the original text and flip over to the modern text when no amount of footnotes can save you. It helps in making the stories accessible first - and the language following soon after - and the stories are what makes Shakespeare so popular.

True on DevilsAdvocate: Reading plays for fun is like trying to enjoy a house by viewing a blueprint.
posted by ao4047 at 12:50 PM on November 22, 2005


Hey, milquetoast, if you like your Scottish Play with ninjas, you'll love it with samurai. I dunno, to my mind the real argument against a Lamb's retellings, etc. is that Shakespeare's plots weren't all that original. The contemporary Elizabethan audience would have known the plots of most of his place before they entered the theatre. So by stripping away the poetry one is really taking out of these plays all that Shakespeare may have added to whatever myth, history or other source he was interacting with.
posted by jrb223 at 12:51 PM on November 22, 2005


This will surely hasten the return of zombie Shakespeare.
posted by Ohdemah at 12:53 PM on November 22, 2005


The opening lines from jrb223's Samurai MacBeth:

"Look upon the ruins/Of the castle of delusion/Haunted only now/By the spritis/Of those who perished/A scene of carnage/Born of consuming desire/Never changing/Now and throughout eternity"

Now that's how to do it.
posted by maryh at 1:02 PM on November 22, 2005


Ohdemah writes "This will surely hasten the return of zombie Shakespeare."


Fuck, this offends me so greatly that I'm thinking of haunting them and I'm not even dead. yet
posted by phearlez at 1:02 PM on November 22, 2005


So this is that Pajamas Media I've been hearing about?

Hah!!
I have nothing really substantive to say here. But that was awesome.
Ok, why, WHY do we feel the need to make things more "accessible"? Why don't we just go get the Hope Diamond and paint it hot pink? I bet some people would think that was awful pretty.
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 1:05 PM on November 22, 2005


WHY do we feel the need to make things more "accessible"?

Harrison Bergeron-ization at work? I dunno, I just know I don't like it. Footnotes and context helped me understand Shakespeare just fine when I was in school.
posted by Gator at 1:10 PM on November 22, 2005


I suppose it comes down to how you react to something that's new or difficult- do you enjoy doing what it takes to be able to understand it or do you want it mashed up into baby food and spoon fed to you?
I am incredibly snobby about this so in all fairness I'll say that I can barely add, so if anyone finds a way to dumb down math, let me know and I'll send you my email address. But for the love of god leave Shakespeare alone, ok?
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 1:14 PM on November 22, 2005


I spend a great deal of my life directing Shakespeare plays, so I'm certainly not going to argue against performing them. But I disagree that performance is the only way -- or the TRUE way -- one can enjoy them.

I love seeing them; I love reading them. The two experiences are different. When I see them, I focus more on the action and, of course, the interaction between the actors. When I read them, I linger over words. I can read at my own pace, and I love doing that. When I watch, I am locked into the pace of the performance.

When I first got into Shakespeare, I DID like watching to be my FIRST experience. This was just because I found the language difficult, and watching it was a quick way into understanding, because I could pick up so much info from the actor's gestures and inflections (and from the set and costumes). But once the language became more familiar to me, I didn't need these clues.

Another issue with performance. Most productions cut the text. (My company usually performs the plays uncut, but we're unusual that way.) I don't think cutting is bad, but a cut text is obviously different from a full text. You must read (or find an unusual production) to experience the full text.

If you want the opposite experience to a Shakespeare translation -- if you want to confront and understand the original fully -- do what I do when I'm prepping to direct one of the plays: buy about ten different editions of the play (really cheap in used bookstores). I do this because each edition tends to have different notes. It's really odd how some one edition will fail to explain a really obscure word -- as if that word was common knowledge. Another edition WILL explain that word, but it will fail to explain some other obscure word. So I find myself going back and forth between editions. I also use the Oxford English Dictionary. And I rent as many productions as I can and watch them all. (Many plays are available on audio, so I also listen to some.)

Finally, I read critical commentary on the plays. I can can use my editions for this, as each one will generally include an introduction by some scholar.

Obviously, not everyone will want to spend this kind of time reading a play. But if you ARE willing to do it, you'll find the activity deeply rewarding. And if you do this with one Shakespeare play -- if you deeply study it on the word-to-word level -- you'll find the next Shakespeare play much easier.
posted by grumblebee at 1:19 PM on November 22, 2005


The adaptations by Charles and Mary Lamb are fantastic and read like fairy tales. Accessible, fun and beautifully illustrated. I can't imagine a better introduction for young kids to what hopefully becomes a life long appreciation of the actual works.
posted by Skygazer at 1:22 PM on November 22, 2005


Oy. Shakespeare's language is complicated. He uses many puns and phrases that are completely unknown to the modern reader. Sometimes, it is in these puns that crucial plot information is given. Unless the author that does this translation is very conversant in Shakespeare's English, you are going to lose not only Shakespeare's language (which is in itself a lot to lose), but an important chunk of his intent with such a "translation." I vote "nay."
posted by teece at 1:37 PM on November 22, 2005


I love how Lynch Multimedia Inc. in their wisdom see fit to replace the most sublime line in Shakespeare -- 'what bloody man is that?' -- with '"Who's that man?" he asked'.

No soul. None.
posted by Sonny Jim at 1:41 PM on November 22, 2005


The folger library has texts with pictures or scene action summaries to help understand the works. I mean c'mon.

PlusDistance
, when you come to a fork in the road, take it.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:47 PM on November 22, 2005


And besides, only a complete and utter lunkhead would replace "You come most carefully upon your hour" with "You're on time!"
posted by teece at 1:51 PM on November 22, 2005


Keep this up, in 50 years they'll have to retell Stephen King to make the prose accessible.
posted by QuietDesperation at 2:30 PM on November 22, 2005


Reduced Shakespeare Company does all 37 plays in 97 minutes. You can even get them on DVD.
posted by kirkaracha at 2:37 PM on November 22, 2005


Unless the author that does this translation is very conversant in Shakespeare's English, you are going to lose not only Shakespeare's language (which is in itself a lot to lose), but an important chunk of his intent with such a "translation."

The flip side of that coin is that the "translation" also risks inserting a specific interpretation where the original could be interpreted different ways, left up to the actors and director. A case in point is The Merchant of Venice. Until the mid-1800s, Shylock was strictly played as a villian, and usually a comical one at that, in a way that would seem blatantly anti-Semitic to us today. More recently, the play is usually interpreted to make Shylock a sympathetic character--his actions become at least understandable, though perhaps not excusable, and Antonio is not without fault in the matter. But the text of the play admits either interpretation. Whether Shakespeare realized that when he wrote it, I don't know, but I don't think it much matters either. Whether it was intentional or not, the fact that Shakespeare's plays admit multiple interpretations is part of what makes them great.

Now compare the Lamb retelling of The Merchant of Venice: "[T]here was great enmity between this covetous Jew and the generous merchant Antonio." Not that we can blame Lamb much, since that was the dominant--perhaps only--interpretation of the play when Lamb's summary was written, but it does not admit the more modern interpretation, where Shylock is not so purely evil, and Antonio is not without fault. The original does.

Semi-related, see this comment of grumblebee's in the "epiphanies" AskMe thread (it's long; you can skip to the part below the "====" for the point here) for another example of multiple interpretations of a great play.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:53 PM on November 22, 2005


oh dear .
Forgive me filter for i have sinned :
i appeared in a version of macbeth rewritten entirely in scots (lallans) ....the best line of the whole play was...
"sic boondless radgieness kin maister a man"
i remember the actor who had to say the line in question begging someone else to take his part lol
oh , and we had an army entirely composed of twelve year old kids with branches.
anyway when we old drama queens meet , we quote that line ....there was one about some 'hochmagandie'happening somewhere in macbeths castle ...but i've had ect to remove most of that speech.

The opening lines from jrb223's Samurai MacBeth:

"Look upon the ruins/Of the castle of delusion/Haunted only now/By the spritis/Of those who perished/A scene of carnage/Born of consuming desire/Never changing/Now and throughout eternity"



i'd love a link to more of this text , it's lovely.

true , plays are not meant to be read , thats why they are called plays
posted by sgt.serenity at 3:16 PM on November 22, 2005


Semi-self-link: I'm having my class remix a text for their next assignment (we're in a computer classroom); one of the students was good enough to share this 1337 version of Romeo and Juliet with me as an additional example. It takes a while to get going, but it's a hoot, especially Mercutio's death scene.
posted by vitia at 3:34 PM on November 22, 2005


What's appalling here is not the attempt but the quality of the prose - the very opposite of "show, don't tell."

To be fair, the later scenes are not quite as excruciating as the first. The prose style allows the authors to add a great deal of back story and historical/political context. If this were used to introduce grade school kids (not high school) to Shakespeare, particularly if it were a spring board for attending a live production or reading the original text, I'd be OK with that.

Obligatory list of Macbeth adaptations:
Scotland, PA - Brilliant.
MacHomer - a one-man "Simpsons" version
(Star Wars Macbeth, tragically, seems to be offline.)
posted by zanni at 3:50 PM on November 22, 2005


I don't suppose there's anyone reading this thread who hasn't at some time read The Skinhead Hamlet?
posted by Creosote at 7:08 PM on November 22, 2005


I've read a lot about, but haven't seen, MacHomer - still, in terms of an "adaptation" of MacBeth it seems too much in the way of a hybrid. On the other hand, Scotland, PA, while not a truly great movie, does seem to me just about the closest to an optimal modern retelling of the story, all the while using many of Shakespeare's devices, or modern analogues of same. This Lamb fellow should probably watch it a couple times and learn how it's done.
posted by soyjoy at 8:26 PM on November 22, 2005


Heh. I do, in real life, know how to write "Macbeth," but I was already immersed in thinking about my pals the McBeths... forgive me, Shakespeare
posted by soyjoy at 8:28 PM on November 22, 2005


I haven't seen MacHomer yet either, but I'm looking forward to it. It's coming to Hawaii in February.

Another addition to the list, Men of Respect, a pretty dismal "mafia" Macbeth featuring John Turturro.

Unfortunately, Branagh's version has been put on hold.
posted by zanni at 12:57 AM on November 23, 2005


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