Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Silly Translators

So after the “Shakespeare Gifts” chat I’m on Amazon looking for books for the kids.  It’s important to me, as you may have guessed, to not just grab anything that says Shakespeare-for-kids on it.  Being public domain, Shakespeare’s easy fodder for anybody to just slap a title on it and ship it out there.  Besides, I’d like to think that my kids have got a jump on the competition just a little bit by having the geeky dad that they do.

I’m looking at one book, the title not important (it’s a version of Romeo and Juliet), and using Amazon’s “Look inside” feature.    I see some of the words in the text are footnoted.  Cool.  Then I see what’s actually written:

2. Mutiny: discord.

3. Star-crossed: illfated.

Does that not seem silly to anybody?  Can you imagine the conversation?

“Daddy, what does mutiny mean?”

“Well, sweetie, there’s a note of explanation, so let’s just look…it means discord.”

“Oh.  Daddy?”

“Yes, pumpkin?”

“What’s discord mean?”

“No idea, sugar.  There’s no footnote.”

That’s one big reason right there why I don’t even attempt to get my kids into the original text.  You have these cases where someone’s decided that “mutiny” needs explanation, so why not “ancient grudge” as well?  Is “civil blood” self-explanatory enough?  You could really go crazy trying to keep the text and yet still managing to explain it in a way that a first time reader will get it. 

I see it as two audiences.  People who’ve never heard of the stories before have no obligation to see them first in the original text.  Once they know the story, then they can learn to appreciate the quality of the original, and it will make infinitely more sense.


And if you don’t happen to agree with me on that one, you need to go home and throw out all your Disney merchandise, and read your children Grimm’s tales instead. :)


catkins said...

Of course, you are right, but mightn't it be OK to have a peppering of original text, just for the Shakespearean fun of it? Like keeping famous lines like, "Romeo, Romeo. Wherefore art thou Romeo?" and explaining that was how they said "why are you Romeo." Just a thought. My son was an avid reader of The Sonnets from the age of about 8 and did well by using a good edition with fairly excellent glosses (the old Penguin by Bush & Harbage). That is certainly key and the title of your post is apt as the examples you give are definitely silly. What makes editing hard work (and interesting and fun) is gauging your audience and deciding what to gloss, what not to gloss, and how to explain things concisely and clearly. The editor you have cited has failed miserably.

Duane said...

Oh, absolutely. I think I'd written more originally and then edited it back out. I squeeze in the "big lines" wherever I can, if I think the kids will get it. And if you go back over the history of the blog you can find cases of Dad randomly quoting Shakespeare at the kids whenever the mood strikes him (I remember one night telling my daughter that Daddy was only mad north by north west, and when the wind was southerly he knew a hawk from a handsaw :)).