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Culture Forum

  1. Subscriber FMF
    Main Poster
    26 Mar '11 11:00
    I have been listening to some audio lectures on 'The Story Of Human Language' given by Professor of Linguistics, John McWhorter. He made an interesting 'admission' in a section on 'How Language Changes', which I have taken a moment to transcribe:

    "We don't process Shakespeare as readily as we often suppose. With all humility I think there is a kind of mythology - a bit of a hoax - surrounding our reception of Shakespeare as educated people. And I will openly admit that, except when I have read a Shakespeare play - and this is particularly the tragedies - when I go and hear it, cold, at normal speed, I don't understand enough to make the evening worth it.

    "I don't like to admit it - I learned long ago that you're not supposed to say so - but it's true. And even as somebody who loves languages and is familiar with English and all its historical layers, I have seen The Tempest not once, not twice, but three times, never having gotten down to reading that particular play, I have never known what in the world was going on in that play.

    "And I seriously doubt if I am alone. And it's not that the language is poetry. Poetry's fine. It's because Shakespeare in many ways was not writing in the language that I am familiar with. It's been many many centuries and the language has changed.

    "One friend of mine said that the only time he had gone to Shakespeare and really genuinely understood it the way we understand a play by O'Neal or by Tony Kushner is when he saw Hamlet in France because it was in relatively modern French and he was very good at French."

    Anybody's feel a tingle of agreement at the suggestion that there is a bit of a hoax going on or is there just something wrong with McWhorter?
  2. Standard member avalanchethecat
    Not actually a cat
    26 Mar '11 11:58
    From school and for years after, I felt totally in agreement with this. Virtually all of Shakespeare seemed, to me, to be archaic, opaque and entirely staid. Then a few years ago I was prevailed upon to go and see a troop called 'Oddsocks'. They present the works with more humour than you would think is possible (last year they did Hamlet - The Comedy) and are a revelation. Since then, I've come to think that it's not Shakespeare per se that's the problem, it's the way it's usually presented that stifles understanding.
  3. Subscriber FMF
    Main Poster
    26 Mar '11 12:07
    Originally posted by avalanchethecat
    From school and for years after, I felt totally in agreement with this. Virtually all of Shakespeare seemed, to me, to be archaic, opaque and entirely staid. Then a few years ago I was prevailed upon to go and see a troop called 'Oddsocks'. They present the works with more humour than you would think is possible (last year they did Hamlet - The Comed ...[text shortened]... er se that's the problem, it's the way it's usually presented that stifles understanding.
    Was it a play you'd never read or seen performed before?
  4. Standard member avalanchethecat
    Not actually a cat
    26 Mar '11 12:13
    Originally posted by FMF
    Was it a play you'd never read or seen performed before?
    No, it was Romeo & Juliet. I thought I already understood it pretty well, but I'd never enjoyed it before. You get a bit of a flavour of them from their website:

    http://www.oddsocks.co.uk/theatre/about/what-we-do
  5. Standard member Seitse
    Doug Stanhope
    26 Mar '11 12:24
    I guess English speakers pretend to enjoy/understand Shakespeare
    the same way Spanish speakers do with Cervantes, feeling like not
    doing so would be like a sacrilege towards their linguistic golden calf
    and the greatness of one's cultural heritage.

    Could it be the same with German speakers and Goethe?

    It would be interesting to know also if French speakers feel the same
    towards their own sacred cow.
  6. Standard member mikelom
    Ajarn
    26 Mar '11 14:50
    Originally posted by Seitse
    I guess English speakers pretend to enjoy/understand Shakespeare
    the same way Spanish speakers do with Cervantes, feeling like not
    doing so would be like a sacrilege towards their linguistic golden calf
    and the greatness of one's cultural heritage.

    Could it be the same with German speakers and Goethe?

    It would be interesting to know also if French speakers feel the same
    towards their own sacred cow.
    Not necessarily so. If one has been through every sentence in deep analysis, before seeing a play, and have full understandings of the multiple meanings and ploys Shakespeare toyed with, then the final viewing of a play is superb. It takes a long time to strip a single Shakespeare play, and analyse it in modern day language, but nevertheless the value is there to be seen, once; and I iterate again, the play has been understood in writing form before seeing acts.

    Just an addition; Jose (and I don't have a European keyboard ก้เ ด้ำ ดนหดฟหิพำไหๆวดอทำ&#3671😉

    I write from memory;

    Eran las tres de la tarde, y el sol resplandecia, centelleante, sobre el mar. La brisa no tenia la fuerza para hinchar las velas de las lanchas pescadoran que surcaban el oceano al la ventura. Reinaba silencio, el silencio solemne, infinito, del mar en calma.

    That translated into English in my perspective, is more beautiful in English than Spanish....... what say ye?

    -m.
  7. 26 Mar '11 15:15
    Originally posted by FMF
    Anybody's feel a tingle of agreement at the suggestion that there is a bit of a hoax going on or is there just something wrong with McWhorter?
    There is something wrong with McWhorter. If he thinks Shakespeare wrote in a different language, he should try Chaucer. FFS, Shakespeare wrote in early modern English, Chaucer in late middle English - halfway through the vowel shift, and it shows - and with a modicum of practice, Chaucer's language is no problem for an intelligent person. Shakespeare is a doddle.

    Take, just to use an example most people will be familiar with, Hamlet's most famous soliloquiy. Sure, there are words in it which we would now not use in that context, or indeed at all; but the language is pure English, modern English. The less common words are all quite grokkable from context. After all, people who choose to watch Shakespeare are people who are not scared by words like "soliloquiy". I don't think I've ever used that word outside discussions of Hamlet - have you? Yet everybody understands what it means, everybody who is interested at least. And come on, be fair, it's no worse with Shakespeare's own words. He wrote English, unaverage English, but quite recognisable and understandable English.

    Perhaps McWhorter has never been to a good performance of a Shakespeare play. It's certainly possible to make his language unintelligible by murdering the metre, the rhythm of speech. That will turn what is a lucid, natural flow of words into a jumble of disjointed lines. But that isn't Shakespeare's fault, it's the performers'.

    Richard
  8. Standard member Bosse de Nage
    Zellulärer Automat
    26 Mar '11 15:31
    I don't get what the 'hoax' is supposed to be.

    Shakespeare's language takes some getting used to but isn't difficult. Most editions have notes to explain the more recondite words.

    I'm reading Henry IV, 2 at the moment and finding the characterisation quite horribly believable.

    Cervante's Exemplary Tales are superb. No idea how his Castilian compares to today's.
  9. Subscriber FMF
    Main Poster
    26 Mar '11 16:22
    @ Shallow Blue
    @ Bosse de Nage

    To be fair to McWhorter, I think you are getting the wrong end of the stick slightly. What he said was this: "I will openly admit that, except when I have read a Shakespeare play - and this is particularly the tragedies - when I go and hear it, cold, at normal speed, I don't understand enough to make the evening worth it."

    So his question is not whether a performance of a Shakespeare play is entertaining (or does justice to the language) and he isn't saying he doesn't understand Shakespeare's English when he studies it.

    His question is: have you ever been to a performance of a Shakespeare play that you hadn't studied or read beforehand and understood it fully?
  10. Subscriber FMF
    Main Poster
    26 Mar '11 16:23
    Originally posted by Bosse de Nage
    Shakespeare's language takes some getting used to but isn't difficult. Most editions have notes to explain the more recondite words. I'm reading Henry IV, 2 at the moment ...
    McWhorter is not talking about reading Shakespeare.
  11. Standard member Seitse
    Doug Stanhope
    26 Mar '11 18:07
    Wow, you're all so intellectual and deep. I am not worth. I leave now. Bye.
  12. 29 Mar '11 11:44
    Originally posted by FMF
    His question is: have you ever been to a performance of a Shakespeare play that you hadn't studied or read beforehand and understood it fully?
    Yeah. The Tempest and Othello spring to mind. Loved them both. Still haven't read Othello. Oh, and The Taming of the Shrew, which I did read afterwards. Granted, Othello was a Dutch translation, but The Tempest certainly wasn't; I'm not sure about the Shrew one, that was years ago.

    As for "fully"... pfft. Have you ever seen a Tarantino film and understood it fully? I know I haven't. Well, except maybe From Dusk to Dawn. And yet, I bet McWhorter wouldn't say the same things about Quentin. No good play, or film, can be understood fully in a single sitting. That's part of the fun: there are always things you notice the second time which you missed at first.

    Richard
  13. Standard member Palynka
    Upward Spiral
    29 Mar '11 16:16
    Originally posted by FMF
    His question is: have you ever been to a performance of a Shakespeare play that you hadn't studied or read beforehand and understood it fully?
    But is that a hoax?
  14. Subscriber FMF
    Main Poster
    30 Mar '11 05:01
    Originally posted by Palynka
    But is that a hoax?
    The 'Shakespeare is a doddle... He wrote English, unaverage English, but quite recognizable and understandable English... I understood The Tempest the first time I saw it without reading it first...' kind of thing' is a 'hoax' - albeit a harmless one - if you ask me.
  15. Standard member Palynka
    Upward Spiral
    30 Mar '11 09:16
    Originally posted by FMF
    The 'Shakespeare is a doddle... He wrote English, unaverage English, but quite recognizable and understandable English... I understood The Tempest the first time I saw it without reading it first...' kind of thing' is a 'hoax' - albeit a harmless one - if you ask me.
    Interesting. Being a non-native speaker, I was repeatedly told about the extreme difficulty in reading Shakespeare. For me, the myth was the polar opposite. It's definitely not a doodle to me, but if you compare it to Milton and it is far easier to understand what is going on.

    I find Milton extremely hard to read. The combination of archaic English and the amount of references and metaphors is just a nightmare.