“…I don’t just go to a Shakespeare play to see it, I also want to hear it, enjoy Shakespeare’s word play, the rhyme, the rhythm, the assonance. Yes, I like the poetry. I don’t remotely think it elevates me. It’s entertaining, it’s beautiful music. It’s Shakespeare.”

Lev Raphael, HuffPost

From quite early on, I was immersed in Shakespeare’s plays. I adored listening to it read aloud, the bold, sweeping rhythms of the poetry carrying me along with Puck and Ophelia on an intriguing journey. I savoured the inventive lines, and reveled in his witty word play.

Then for my first year of highschool, I decided to try a brick-and-mortar school, where we read Romeo and Juliet in literature class. While Romeo and Juliet is not one of my favourite Shakespeare plays, I quite like the script, especially the first scene with Gregory and Samson’s clever puns. However, I was unhappily surprised when the teacher announced we would read it in the modern English translation. This following example will show just how tedious the text becomes:

Even if it captured the general meaning, the modern English translation dulled the sharp cadence of the lines and muddled the precise puns, turning it into a glob of words. Reading through a translation just for the plot is lacking without the eloquent writing that makes Shakespeare Shakespeare.

When my homeschool group went to a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, even the first graders were entranced. If young children, who are not scholars of Shakespeare, can understand a Shakespeare play, then surely so can the average person. To be sure, they missed a few lines’ meanings, but that hardly diminished their delight in the humorous puns and lyrical poetry. Even if we do not understand every line that is said, we still are exposed to the cadence and musical words, which is what comprises the richness of Shakespeare’s plays.

I see several glaring problems with ‘translations’ of Shakespeare into modern-day English. First, translations butcher the cadence of the script. Additionally, translations lose Shakespeare’s concise, rich word choices. This creates clunky, diluted texts whose many meanings are stripped down to the bare bones. The rhythm of the words is part of what makes Shakespeare so enjoyable. The emphasis placed on certain words drives a point across, and the echoes of the wording tie themes together. Shakespeare chose words for a reason, perhaps to highlight how a certain character has one sole focus or to create a sense of bewilderment and chaos. This is why the original script is more succinct and powerful than the diluted translations.

Lastly, translations such as No Fear Shakespeare create the expectation that Shakespeare is difficult and is something to fear. I doubt that anyone can relish a seemingly onerous task. By just starting with his actual script, it seems far less formidable than when there is an over-simplified version staring at you. It is surprising how many words you can deduce from context clues. You do not need to understand every line perfectly to grasp the overall idea Shakespeare wanted to convey.

If modern English translations are not ideal, then what can we use to catch the nuances in Shakespeare’s plays? We can begin with good retellings, which are summaries of the play’s story. Once you begin reading the actual script, look to the footnotes.

Any good copy of Shakespeare should have footnotes. These provide explanations of the most obscure words and often offer background information on adages, customs, and personages that Shakespeare’s Elizabethan audience would have been familiar with. Footnotes allow you to experience the rich words in their original form while still understanding obscure references in the play.

Shakespeare is for everyone, and although retellings of his plays can act as a doorway to his full works, replacing reading his glorious writing with only reading simplified words does not give one a fair chance to interpret them for ourselves and tie them to our experiences. Shakespeare’s entertaining word play, poetic lines, and rhythmic writing speak for themselves, inviting us to come and join the fairies in their revels. There is a feast of words before us, so why not partake of the tastiest dishes?

Works Cited:




The Nuance of the Script: Why Modern Shakespeare Translations Are Lacking