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Why don’t people talk like Shakespeare anymore?

This is not rhetorical, it is a serious question.

Perhaps it is my recent foray back into the world of the famous Bard of Avon, however, I find myself tiring more each day of the laziness of the modern English language. Setting aside, if you’ll give me leave to, the most officious examples of text speak and abbreviations which shorten not only single words but even phrases into meaningless, mismatched letters, you are still left with a laziness in popular culture which turns my stomach at times.

I am not going to go into a lengthy diatribe here. I am sure my readers will agree with me in any case. However, I would like to give a few examples below, taken from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and ask you to let me know which you would rather read and/or hear.

The following is taken from The Tempest, Act 1, Scene 2:

Original Text:

FERDINAND

So they are.

My spirits, as in a dream, are all bound up.

My father’s loss, the weakness which I feel,

The wrack of all my friends, nor this man’s threats,

To whom I am subdued, are but light to me,

Might I but through my prison once a day

Behold this maid. All corners else o’ th’ earth

Let liberty make use of. Space enough

Have I in such a prison.

Modern Text:

FERDINAND

That’s true, they are. My strength is all gone, as if in a dream. The death of my father, my physical weakness, the loss of all my friends, the threats of this man who’s taken me prisoner – all that would be easy for me to take, if only I could look through my prison windows once a day and see this girl. I don’t need any more freedom than that. A prison like that would give me enough liberty. (1)

Now, please, be honest with me. Who in their right mind wouldn’t swoon to hear their beloved say “All corners else o’ th’ earth let liberty make use of. Space enough have I in such a prison.”? Certainly Ferdinand’s meaning is better portrayed through Shakespeare’s language than our own modern tongue.

I do not think I need to look far to find others who agree that, regarding the language of love, Shakespeare comes top of the class.

However, looking to the other end of the spectrum, even Shakespeare’s insults are far superior. Again, this is not something which only I have noticed. There’s an entire website dedicated to the lost art of Elizabethan insults. He does have a certain knack for coarse language.

Take the following, from The Tempest, Act 1, Scene 1:

Original Text:

SEBASTIAN

A pox o’ your throat, you bawling, blasphemous, incharitable dog!

Modern Text:

SEBASTIAN

Oh, go to hell, you loud-mouthed bastard! (3)

The above, I am happy to admit, is one of my favourite ever of Shakespeare’s insults. Please tell me whether you’d rather hear the original or the modern text. I mean to say – think of the imagination involved! It’s so much better than just telling someone to go to hell. We’ve lost all imagination in our modern insults, which is very sad. If you’re looking for a sure-fire way to double the value of your insults, use language and phrasing which your enemy is bound to misunderstand, thereby insulting their intelligence as well.

And for my final example, please find one of the most well-known scenes from The Tempest, from Act 4, Scene 1:

Original Text:

PROSPERO

(to FERDINAND)

You do look, my son, in a moved sort,

As if you were dismayed. Be cheerful, sir.

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,

As I foretold you, were all spirits and

Are melted into air, into thin air.

And like the baseless fabric of this vision,

The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,

The solemn temples, the great globe itself—

Yea, all which it inherit—shall dissolve,

And like this insubstantial pageant faded,

Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff

As dreams are made on, and our little life

Is rounded with a sleep. Sir, I am vexed.

Bear with my weakness. My old brain is troubled.

Be not disturbed with my infirmity.

If you be pleased, retire into my cell

And there repose. A turn or two I’ll walk

To still my beating mind.

Modern Text:

PROSPERO

(to FERDINAND)

You look like something’s bothering you. Cheer up. Our music-and-dance spectacle is over. These actors were all spirits, as I told you, and they’ve all melted into thin air. And just like the whole empty and ungrounded vision you’ve seen, with its towers topped with clouds, its gorgeous palaces, solemn temples, the world itself—and everyone living in it—which will dissolve just as this illusory pageant has dissolved, leaving not even a wisp of cloud behind. We are all made of dreams, and our life stretches from sleep before birth to sleep after death. Sir, I’m upset. Please put up with my weakness. My old brain is troubled. Don’t be disturbed by my illness. If you like, you can rest a while in my room. I’ll go for a short walk to calm down my feverish mind. (4) 

“We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.” Oh, the desperate realisation that life is too short has never sounded quite so beautiful. Such poetry relives the starkness of the epiphany and brings comfort to the listener. It loses all of its poetry and much of its kindness in a modern telling.

So, what is the verdict? Do you agree with me that there is something lost with the passing of well-phrased English both in written and spoken word? We’ll have a vote in the comments, shall we? Original Vs Modern.

I hope not to bore you too thoroughly over the next few days with all of my Shakespeare posts, but I make no guarantees. If you haven’t dusted off your Complete Works recently, do yourself a favour and get stuck in. If it’s  been since your school years since you’ve attempted to read Shakespeare then give it another chance, it is infinitely more enjoyable when you can enjoy the works without a teacher or a professor shoving their particular interpretation down your throat.

However, and this is a point I cannot stress strongly enough, forget about reading Shakespeare entirely. Go and SEE Shakespeare. Immediately. Although, I do feel I should warn you, a poor performance can put you off for life. Avoid too modern tellings, as discussed above, they detract immeasurably from the intent.

Refrences:

(1) No Fear Shakespeare – The Tempest, Page 56

(2) Shakespearean Insults Generator

(3) No Fear Shakespeare – The Tempest, Page 6

(4) No Fear Shakespeare – The Tempest, Page 158

(5) The post title is from The Tempest, Act 1, Scene 2 as spoken by Ariel. Although you may know them from T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland.

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In preparation for our upcoming Road Trip Adventure I have started reading travel books.

At the moment I’m 111 pages into William Least Heat-Moon’s Blue Highways: A Journey Into America.

The foreword:

On the old highway maps of America, the main routes were red and the back roads blue. Now even the colors are changing. But in those brevities just before dawn and a little after dusk – times neither day nor night – the old roads return to the sky some of its color. Then, in truth, they carry a mysterious cast of blue, and it’s that time when the pull of the blue highway is strongest, when the open road is a beckoning, a strangeness, a place where a man can lose himself.

If that paragraph doesn’t make you want to pick up a copy of the book then I am afraid the rest of my post will bore you. So far I am in love. Blue Highways is fascinating and informative and, at times, painful, but also irresistible.

Would you like further incentive?

Page 33

While I ate buttermilk pie, [Thurmond] Watts served as disc jockey of Nameless, Tennessee. “Here’s ‘Mountain Rose.'” It was one of those moments that you know at the time will stay with you to the grave; the sweet pie, the gaunt man playing the old music, the coals in the stove glowing orange, the scent of kerosene and hot bread. “Here’s ‘Evening Rhapsody.'” The music was so heavily romantic we both laughed. I thought: It is for this I have come.

Page 70

“Nothin’ in that water but water. Be comin’ up from four hundred feet, gettin’ cleaned all the way down and all the way back up. Natural wells used to be all over here, but them new, drilled wells dried up the othern. But this one, he be too deep.” The man closed the trunk and helped his wife into the car. “Government man come round and say he’d drill a well by the house. I tole him all we’d do with it was flush a water toilet, and we got no water toilet. I says ‘How that water gone get up to me?’ He say with a lectric pump. I says ‘We drinks water what come up of his own mind.'”

When I went back for more, the water pressure shifted, answering some change in the aquifer deep below. I wondered how old the water was, how long it had taken to get down and back up. I’ve never drunk glacier water from snows that fell a thousand years ago, but I couldn’t imagine it being any better than the South Carolina water what come up of his own mind.

I have been swept in. I couldn’t put this book down if I wanted to. I bought it from Amazon second-hand and it shipped to me from America but I guarantee it’s going right back over the ocean with me in May.

William Least Heat-Moon’s circular route around the country shares not one location with our own planned journey, although we do cross his path twice. Regardless, I think I will find this an indispensable accompaniment to our trip – if only to remind me what we should be doing. We are not taking the old blue highways – we simply don’t have the time, but that doesn’t mean we have to lose sight of the real experience. We may not stop and have dinner with strangers in a small town called Nameless, but the idea of it should still be there.

As I said, I am only on page 111. I will let you know when I get to the end and what my views are then.

xo
A

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