October 10, 2015 at 7:47 pm (Asides) (, , )

Is Shakespeare’s language too antiquated to understand? Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s huge new “Play On!” project seeks to remove the language barrier by employing 39 playwrights and 39 dramaturges to translate each play into modern English and stage it.

Good or bad? American Shakespeare Center’s co-founder Ralph Alan Cohen sees both sides, but the gist of his recent blog post American Shakespeare Center Director of Mission’s Response to the Shakespeare Translation Project is that the project entrenches the idea that Shakespeare’s language is too difficult for modern audiences, endorses ShakesFear and underestimates the genius of audiences. He points out that nearly all of Shakespeare’s words are in current English usage per dictionaries and those that aren’t can usually be understood in context (the words around them) and with proper staging. Much to my delight, they work hard at this in Staunton.

My take on OSF’s project? Sounds awesome to me! It’s not like the real deal won’t still be readily available to anyone interested. Shakespeare is on stage all the time in many forms and at many venues in metro Washington DC where I live. Some are traditional, some are adaptations… the Capital Fringe Festival always includes some odd takes on Shakespeare and Synetic Theater does wordless Shakespeare productions! I am no purist and see value in it all.

That said, I love the words in the original. I love the words. The meaning does not come easily to me; I have to work at it and think. It requires my attention in a way nothing else I read or watch does. And there is pay off. I mentioned in my About Me when I started this blog that my grades in my three college Shakespeare classes way back when were all Bs and the Bard brought down my GPA. Yet, in some of my darkest days when I needed something positive to focus my brain on, I chose to return to a 25 year old challenge and I started this blog. I agree with this quote from Cohen’s blog post:

OSF’s project, in worrying about making Shakespeare easier, endorses the wrong idea that Shakespeare is too hard. But it is just the right kind of hard. In the words of our Associate Artistic Director, Jay McClure, “Shakespeare is not easy; it is not neat, it is not without complications; it is not always understandable. Just like life. And just like life, it is miraculous.  And it is work.  And it is worth it.”

And it is worth it!


  1. Mari Christian said,

    If Shakespeare is properly taught,there shouldn’t be a problem with language.Most important, students need to immerse themselves in roles and act scenes from set plays. Speaking the language is the key.

    • orwhatyouwill said,

      Thanks, Mari. What do you think of the Play On! project? What do you think of Cohen’s concerns? He makes the point that OSF, like ASC, is in a small town in the middle of nowhere and their audience is largely wealthy retirees with the money to take a weekend ride out into the country to see Shakespeare. I’m not sure the translation project will really bring in streams of Millennials, but maybe that’s the hope.

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