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    Ogre in the Playground
     
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    Default Shakespearean English, or "Why is misunderstanding easier than learning?"

    Little rant incoming.

    I'm not the biggest fan of Shakespeare. Don't get me wrong, he was pretty talented and also had an interesting sense of humor, but so many people seem to think he was the biggest theater genius ever and all his works were complete masterpieces to which all other plays must be compared, which is such ridiculous hyperbole that it's kind of a turnoff. But even though I'm not head over heels for his stuff, one thing that has always annoyed me about many people who don't put the guy on a pedestal is the way they treat the language used. Now, if your native language is something other than English, I can understand that his archaic language could be difficult. But the number of native English speakers who act like Shakespearean English is completely impenetrable is excessively high, and I honestly don't get it. Yes, it's different from current English. Yes, it requires you to actually learn a bit. Why is "learning a bit" apparently a complete deal-breaker for so many people? Why do they prefer to throw up their hands and declare Shakespeare's works impossible to understand - or worse, completely misunderstand things because they refuse to learn what words actually mean. I was thinking about this because I was watching a show where there's a theater thing going on, and the supposedly competent character says, "Wherefore art thou, Romeo?" instead of "Wherefore art thou Romeo?" Wherefore does not mean where. That's not even a reasonable assumption to make from context clues even if you didn't know what it meant, but the assumption that wherefore means where is super common for some reason. Ever seen the Bugs Bunny Witch Hazel playwright episode? "Wherefore art thou, Romeo?" "I'm right here, Juliet!" Yes, it's a joke, but it exists because of the common misconception. Nobody thinks that "therefore" means "there," so why would "wherefore" mean "where?"

    TL;DR: Why do people prefer willful ignorance, complaining, and obvious misunderstandings over putting forth the effort to learn something? Shakespearean English is the subject of my rant, but the question holds for other things as well.
    I'm currently writing a story, titled "Zenith: Another World Saga."

    It's a fantasy/adventure story. Here's the summary:

    When I opened my eyes, I was in a fantasy world. I quickly discovered that it functioned off of game-like rules (levels, EXP, skills, and so on). Taking the name Zenith, I decided to make the best of my new world and live as an adventurer aiming for the top together with my new best friend Rozenskye. And I might be functionally immortal? An Isekai-style story.

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    Bugbear in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: Shakespearean English, or "Why is misunderstanding easier than learning?"

    Why should I invest time and energy into learning something that is pretty limited in use? It's not like like learning an accent such as Australian, or the harder to understand English accents of today. I use these as an example because my cousin has problems understanding those type of accents. At least you have a wider breadth of usage out of learning those, or heck even learning another language, even enough to get the just of what's going on in their media.

    I mean in the first part of your statment.. you acknowledged Shakespeare isn't the end all and be all.. then you go on to wonder why people don't put the effort of learning this stuff in the original language? Why bother to if his works are adapted into modern vernacular.

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    Default Re: Shakespearean English, or "Why is misunderstanding easier than learning?"

    Quote Originally Posted by Fiery Diamond View Post
    Little rant incoming.

    I'm not the biggest fan of Shakespeare. Don't get me wrong, he was pretty talented and also had an interesting sense of humor, but so many people seem to think he was the biggest theater genius ever and all his works were complete masterpieces to which all other plays must be compared, which is such ridiculous hyperbole that it's kind of a turnoff. But even though I'm not head over heels for his stuff, one thing that has always annoyed me about many people who don't put the guy on a pedestal is the way they treat the language used. Now, if your native language is something other than English, I can understand that his archaic language could be difficult. But the number of native English speakers who act like Shakespearean English is completely impenetrable is excessively high, and I honestly don't get it. Yes, it's different from current English. Yes, it requires you to actually learn a bit. Why is "learning a bit" apparently a complete deal-breaker for so many people? Why do they prefer to throw up their hands and declare Shakespeare's works impossible to understand - or worse, completely misunderstand things because they refuse to learn what words actually mean. I was thinking about this because I was watching a show where there's a theater thing going on, and the supposedly competent character says, "Wherefore art thou, Romeo?" instead of "Wherefore art thou Romeo?" Wherefore does not mean where. That's not even a reasonable assumption to make from context clues even if you didn't know what it meant, but the assumption that wherefore means where is super common for some reason. Ever seen the Bugs Bunny Witch Hazel playwright episode? "Wherefore art thou, Romeo?" "I'm right here, Juliet!" Yes, it's a joke, but it exists because of the common misconception. Nobody thinks that "therefore" means "there," so why would "wherefore" mean "where?"

    TL;DR: Why do people prefer willful ignorance, complaining, and obvious misunderstandings over putting forth the effort to learn something? Shakespearean English is the subject of my rant, but the question holds for other things as well.
    I also don't hold any love for Shakespeare (and flat-out loathe Romeo and Juliet in particular), but not for this reason. The language is incredibly outdated, and there is little to no reason to not update it to modern vernacular other than "reverence" for the original. As you point out, it is easy to misconstrue, and as Kyberwolf points out, such misconstructions are easy to occur because Shakespeare's version of English is archaic and largely not used anymore. Shakespeare himself invented new words for his plays, so he clearly didn't hold prescriptivist ideals, which just makes the whole thing just that much sillier.
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    Your bread looks like a rotary phone.
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    Default Re: Shakespearean English, or "Why is misunderstanding easier than learning?"

    ...OK, maybe I'm something of a minority here, but I actually do like Shakespeare. Some of his works anyway. Hamlet, King Lear and The Scottish Play are some of my favorites, Julius Caesar was the first of his plays that I actually liked.

    I was never that big on Romeo and Juliette, though the annoyance of not putting in a token effort to understand what's being said is one I share. I mean, the "wherefore" example you give is actually explained in annotated versions of the text that are not hard to come by, (the version I read in high school was annotated.)

    As for other idiosyncrasies of Shakespearean English... you can pick up most of the meaning through context if you're able to see a production done by a decent theatre company. Reading it from an unannotated text is admittedly pretty tricky. If you think that's hard, try Chaucer. You're in for a fun time!
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    Default Re: Shakespearean English, or "Why is misunderstanding easier than learning?"

    Quote Originally Posted by Peelee View Post
    I also don't hold any love for Shakespeare (and flat-out loathe Romeo and Juliet in particular), but not for this reason. The language is incredibly outdated, and there is little to no reason to not update it to modern vernacular other than "reverence" for the original. As you point out, it is easy to misconstrue, and as Kyberwolf points out, such misconstructions are easy to occur because Shakespeare's version of English is archaic and largely not used anymore. Shakespeare himself invented new words for his plays, so he clearly didn't hold prescriptivist ideals, which just makes the whole thing just that much sillier.
    How are you going to do that and keep the metre? Or would you just do away with it?
    Quote Originally Posted by J.R.R. Tolkien, 1955
    I thought Tom Bombadil dreadful — but worse still was the announcer's preliminary remarks that Goldberry was his daughter (!), and that Willowman was an ally of Mordor (!!).

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    Default Re: Shakespearean English, or "Why is misunderstanding easier than learning?"

    @OP: You really don't understand why people think the word with the word "where" in it means "where"? Really?

    I can understand not liking it, but not understanding why is a pretty big failure to understand human nature. We look for simple solutions, and faced with a sentence that contains precisely ZERO words that are used in daily life anymore, people are going to make assumptions that make the sentence readable for them based on the context of their own knowledge. Is it really any more of a stretch to assume wherefore means where than to assume thou means you?

    Quote Originally Posted by Peelee View Post
    I also don't hold any love for Shakespeare (and flat-out loathe Romeo and Juliet in particular), but not for this reason. The language is incredibly outdated, and there is little to no reason to not update it to modern vernacular other than "reverence" for the original. As you point out, it is easy to misconstrue, and as Kyberwolf points out, such misconstructions are easy to occur because Shakespeare's version of English is archaic and largely not used anymore. Shakespeare himself invented new words for his plays, so he clearly didn't hold prescriptivist ideals, which just makes the whole thing just that much sillier.
    There's a really good reason: updating it kills the cadence. All of Shakespeare's plays are written in iambic pentameter; the number of syllables in each line matters IMMENSELY to the performance.

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    Default Re: Shakespearean English, or "Why is misunderstanding easier than learning?"

    I think an aspect of Shakespeare that often throws people off is the sheer amount of concepts being thrown around, both from a grammatical and a metaphorical standpoint. That's just how he wrote; the writing is thick with pretty much every joke and wordplay and reference he could manage to cram in, because that was what people enjoyed at the time. The late 1500s and early 1600s were pretty obsessed with philosophical concepts that were hard to summarise even in long form - not to mention the references to political climates that don't even exist anymore. Add in the fact that a good chunk of the words and phrases he used just straight up have new, different meanings, and that makes for a pretty hard read, even with annotations.

    (On top of that, an awful lot of the stuff he's using is either a reference to a reference - like a version of a Roman myth that was well-known in the 1600s, but has become less popular these days - or just flat out wrong by today's standards. Like how in Hamlet, there's parts about pelicans feeding their young with blood, chameleons having a diet of only air, and being out in the open being bad for your health.)

    Of course, OP is right in that deliberate ignorance of these aspects of the work is really annoying, and does no good for any of us that enjoy Shakespeare's works. But a lot of peoples' first introduction to the texts are probably going to be as mandatory parts of an English curriculum - I'm in that category, at least - so it's reasonable to assume that they're going to be frustrated with the way it's not the easiest to parse.
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    Default Re: Shakespearean English, or "Why is misunderstanding easier than learning?"

    Quote Originally Posted by Rynjin View Post
    @OP: You really don't understand why people think the word with the word "where" in it means "where"? Really?

    I can understand not liking it, but not understanding why is a pretty big failure to understand human nature. We look for simple solutions, and faced with a sentence that contains precisely ZERO words that are used in daily life anymore, people are going to make assumptions that make the sentence readable for them based on the context of their own knowledge. Is it really any more of a stretch to assume wherefore means where than to assume thou means you?
    Wouldn't be the simple solution that 'wherefore' corresponds to 'therefore'?


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    Default Re: Shakespearean English, or "Why is misunderstanding easier than learning?"

    By the way, do people try to pronounce Shakespeare's words as they would have been pronounced in that age?

    The typical example is with

    Tyger! Tyger! Burning bright
    In the forests of the night:
    What immortal hand or eye
    Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

    Where symmetry goes with eye.

    And one explanation is that in the time of Shakespeare it really did rhyme:

    Full many a glorious morning have I seen
    Flatter the mountain-tops with sovereign eye,
    Kissing with golden face the meadows green,
    Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy;

    and so Blake got licence from there (this sort of historical rhyme exists in other languages, too), or simply assumed an old-fashioned pronunciation, like the old-fashioned tyger with y (where the old-fashioned writing may actually be a signal of how you were supposed to read y in this poem).
    Quote Originally Posted by J.R.R. Tolkien, 1955
    I thought Tom Bombadil dreadful — but worse still was the announcer's preliminary remarks that Goldberry was his daughter (!), and that Willowman was an ally of Mordor (!!).

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    Default Re: Shakespearean English, or "Why is misunderstanding easier than learning?"

    Quote Originally Posted by Vinyadan View Post
    How are you going to do that and keep the metre? Or would you just do away with it?
    Quote Originally Posted by Rynjin View Post
    There's a really good reason: updating it kills the cadence. All of Shakespeare's plays are written in iambic pentameter; the number of syllables in each line matters IMMENSELY to the performance.
    If only academia churned out a glut of post-grads in English struggling to find jobs specifically in their field who would enjoy exactly this sort of challenge.
    Last edited by Peelee; 2020-05-23 at 06:18 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fyraltari View Post
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    Your bread looks like a rotary phone.
    This right here, is some prime quality culinary critique.

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    Default Re: Shakespearean English, or "Why is misunderstanding easier than learning?"

    Quote Originally Posted by Peelee View Post
    If only academia churned out a glut of post-grads in English struggling to find jobs specifically in their field who would enjoy exactly this sort of challenge.
    Would anybody who'd thrown their life that deep down the rabbit hole be un-pretentious enough to do so?

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    Default Re: Shakespearean English, or "Why is misunderstanding easier than learning?"

    Quote Originally Posted by Rynjin View Post
    Would anybody who'd thrown their life that deep down the rabbit hole be un-pretentious enough to do so?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fyraltari View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Peelee View Post
    Your bread looks like a rotary phone.
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    Default Re: Shakespearean English, or "Why is misunderstanding easier than learning?"

    Quote Originally Posted by Rynjin View Post
    There's a really good reason: updating it kills the cadence. All of Shakespeare's plays are written in iambic pentameter; the number of syllables in each line matters IMMENSELY to the performance.
    Isn't iambic pentameter an easy meter in English, with many natural sentences naturally tending towards it anyway? If so, I'd imagine it wouldn't be all that hard to retain the rythm, but update the rhymes to work in modern English and thus restore the original intention of Shakespeare of creating narratives to be enjoyed by the peasants in the cheap seats?

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    But really, the important lesson here is this: Rather than making assumptions that don't fit with the text and then complaining about the text being wrong, why not just choose different assumptions that DO fit with the text?
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    Default Re: Shakespearean English, or "Why is misunderstanding easier than learning?"

    I very much like Shakespeare. However reading Shakespeare is nearly always a mistake, particularly for a first exposure. It's a play, it should be seen. Having actual actors makes the language much less of a bother, because of all the context clues from the stage direction and performances. The archaic language also stands out less, because of the strange shared act of imagination that watching a stage play requires.

    Being spoken also makes the beauty of the writing come alive in a way it just doesn't on a page. In that sense I would say Shakespeare is the opposite of a lot of what's considered good writing today, where it scans ok on the page, but is just a complete hot mess if read aloud. No rhythm or cadence, metaphors that go nowhere and make no sense, just wretched.
    Blood-red were his spurs i' the golden noon; wine-red was his velvet coat,
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    Default Re: Shakespearean English, or "Why is misunderstanding easier than learning?"

    Quote Originally Posted by Rynjin View Post
    @OP: You really don't understand why people think the word with the word "where" in it means "where"? Really?

    I can understand not liking it, but not understanding why is a pretty big failure to understand human nature. We look for simple solutions, and faced with a sentence that contains precisely ZERO words that are used in daily life anymore, people are going to make assumptions that make the sentence readable for them based on the context of their own knowledge. Is it really any more of a stretch to assume wherefore means where than to assume thou means you?



    There's a really good reason: updating it kills the cadence. All of Shakespeare's plays are written in iambic pentameter; the number of syllables in each line matters IMMENSELY to the performance.
    Yes, really. Does therefore mean there? It's got "there" in it! Assuming wherefore means where is just as absurd as assuming therefore means there. I mean, they're actually pretty mirrored words: wherefore means why and is a question word, therefore means "because of this" and is an explanation word. Just like why and because, and where and there. Perhaps you're right and I don't understand "human nature," because I was raised in a household where "I don't understand this" was inherently followed by "so let's find out," not "so let's just not bother." If you know what therefore means (and if you're old enough to be studying Shakespeare, you should, it's pretty simple to figure out what wherefore might mean.
    Last edited by Fiery Diamond; 2020-05-23 at 11:58 PM.
    I'm currently writing a story, titled "Zenith: Another World Saga."

    It's a fantasy/adventure story. Here's the summary:

    When I opened my eyes, I was in a fantasy world. I quickly discovered that it functioned off of game-like rules (levels, EXP, skills, and so on). Taking the name Zenith, I decided to make the best of my new world and live as an adventurer aiming for the top together with my new best friend Rozenskye. And I might be functionally immortal? An Isekai-style story.

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    Default Re: Shakespearean English, or "Why is misunderstanding easier than learning?"

    Quote Originally Posted by warty goblin View Post
    However reading Shakespeare is nearly always a mistake, particularly for a first exposure. It's a play, it should be seen.
    I count have sworn I said this, but can't find it anywhere. Anyway. I wholly agree, and that is where most of my dislike of Shakespeare comes from (other than Romeo and Juliet, which is just awful). It's like taking a film appreciation class and reading the scripts. It's not how it was intended to be presented, and it loses a lot for it.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fyraltari View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Peelee View Post
    Your bread looks like a rotary phone.
    This right here, is some prime quality culinary critique.

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    Default Re: Shakespearean English, or "Why is misunderstanding easier than learning?"

    Quote Originally Posted by Peelee View Post
    I count have sworn I said this, but can't find it anywhere. Anyway. I wholly agree, and that is where most of my dislike of Shakespeare comes from (other than Romeo and Juliet, which is just awful). It's like taking a film appreciation class and reading the scripts. It's not how it was intended to be presented, and it loses a lot for it.
    Romeo and Juliet is less bad if you don't take it as a romance or tragedy, but instead a sarcastic comedy: "look at how stupid teenagers are! They jump right into believing they're deeply in love for no real reason and are willing to do incredibly idiotic things as a result, even to the point of death!" I mean, it's still kind of morbid to find that funny, but I'm pretty sure that was the actual intention.
    I'm currently writing a story, titled "Zenith: Another World Saga."

    It's a fantasy/adventure story. Here's the summary:

    When I opened my eyes, I was in a fantasy world. I quickly discovered that it functioned off of game-like rules (levels, EXP, skills, and so on). Taking the name Zenith, I decided to make the best of my new world and live as an adventurer aiming for the top together with my new best friend Rozenskye. And I might be functionally immortal? An Isekai-style story.

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    Default Re: Shakespearean English, or "Why is misunderstanding easier than learning?"

    Quote Originally Posted by Fiery Diamond View Post
    Yes, really. Does therefore mean there? It's got "there" in it! Assuming wherefore means where is just as absurd as assuming therefore means there. I mean, they're actually pretty mirrored words: wherefore means why and is a question word, therefore means "because of this" and is an explanation word. Just like why and because, and where and there. Perhaps you're right and I don't understand "human nature," because I was raised in a household where "I don't understand this" was inherently followed by "so let's find out," not "so let's just not bother." If you know what therefore means (and if you're old enough to be studying Shakespeare, you should, it's pretty simple to figure out what wherefore might mean.
    No, it really isn't. That only makes sense from two possible perspectives: back-logic (you already know the meaning of the word, so it's "obvious" what it's supposed to mean), or if you're well versed in English language theory, which is not taught at any of the grade levels people will be when they're exposed to the word for the first time; it's all rote memorization and reading comprehension.

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    Default Re: Shakespearean English, or "Why is misunderstanding easier than learning?"

    Quote Originally Posted by Rynjin View Post
    No, it really isn't. That only makes sense from two possible perspectives: back-logic (you already know the meaning of the word, so it's "obvious" what it's supposed to mean), or if you're well versed in English language theory, which is not taught at any of the grade levels people will be when they're exposed to the word for the first time; it's all rote memorization and reading comprehension.
    Like I said, perhaps my upbringing is to blame here, but I never assumed that wherefore meant where - even when I first encountered it. My reaction was "What does that word mean? I can't tell from context. Hey Mom, what does 'wherefore' mean? Oh, it means 'why?' Hey, that makes sense, it's the counterpart to 'therefore!'" Perhaps making that connection without asking/looking it up is harder than I think, but the idea that someone would assume it means 'where' is still absurd to me. I read a lot as a kid. Whenever I encountered a new word, I first tried to use context clues to figure out what it meant. If context clues were insufficient, I would ask someone or look it up. I never went, "that looks vaguely similar to a word I already know. It must be a synonym." Sometimes I went, "that looks like it shares a root with a word I know. Maybe it's related" and used that to inform my thinking, but I would usually look up the word just to find out exactly what it meant. I despise rote memorization as a learning technique, and I think that focusing on it is a major failing of our educational system. In fact, most of the classes where rote memorization is pretty much the only choice are ones I tended to do poorly at: for example, remembering dates of historical events for history class.

    And especially in today's society, where the majority of older kids and teens (and many younger kids) have almost constant access to the internet from one source or another, there is no excuse other than willful ignorance for not looking things up.
    Last edited by Fiery Diamond; 2020-05-24 at 04:10 AM.
    I'm currently writing a story, titled "Zenith: Another World Saga."

    It's a fantasy/adventure story. Here's the summary:

    When I opened my eyes, I was in a fantasy world. I quickly discovered that it functioned off of game-like rules (levels, EXP, skills, and so on). Taking the name Zenith, I decided to make the best of my new world and live as an adventurer aiming for the top together with my new best friend Rozenskye. And I might be functionally immortal? An Isekai-style story.

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    Default Re: Shakespearean English, or "Why is misunderstanding easier than learning?"

    This thread made me think of a scene from episode 1 of the brilliant TV series Upstart Crow:

    Spoiler: Shakespeare and his family discussing a play he is working on
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ben Elton
    Anne: I mean, why doesn't she just say, "Where are you, Romeo?"

    Will Shakespeare: Because, my love, it doesn't mean, "Where are you?" It means, "Why are you Romeo?"

    Anne: That's a bit weird.

    Susanna: Yeah. Romeo is just his name.

    Will Shakespeare: Well, exactly. Juliet is saying, "Why are you a member of a family that I hate?"

    Anne: People will definitely think you mean, "Romeo, where are you?"

    Susanna: That's what I thought it meant.

    Mary: Yeah. I did, too.

    John: It's bloody obvious.

    Anne: I think, to be clear, you're going to have to have Juliet say, "Romeo, Romeo! Why are you called Romeo?"

    Susanna: "A member of a family that I hate?"

    Anne: That'd do it. Although if I was being really picky, Romeo is just his Christian name, isn't it? And that's not the issue. It's his surname that's the problem.

    Will Shakespeare: Well, yes. Actually, I was sort of hoping people wouldn't notice that.

    Anne: I think they might.

    Susanna: Duh!

    Will Shakespeare: So you think she should say, "Montague, Montague! Wherefore art thou Montague?"

    Anne: No. Cos that'd sound like she's lost her cat.


    I love the archaic language used in Shakespeare's plays and sonnets, I find it fascinating how languages are related and how they gradually evolve. "Wherefore" meaning "why" makes perfect sense to a Scandinavian, because that word is still used in our languages. In Norwegian it's "hvorfor" or "korfor", in Swedish it's "varför", in Danish it's "hvorfor".

    I suppose the reason some people prefer to complain instead of putting some effort into learning is simply that they resent being forced to study something they have no interest in and/or feel they'll never have a use for. For me it was Maths, for others it was Shakespearean English.

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    Default Re: Shakespearean English, or "Why is misunderstanding easier than learning?"

    Quote Originally Posted by Fiery Diamond View Post
    Like I said, perhaps my upbringing is to blame here, but I never assumed that wherefore meant where - even when I first encountered it. My reaction was "What does that word mean? I can't tell from context. Hey Mom, what does 'wherefore' mean? Oh, it means 'why?' Hey, that makes sense, it's the counterpart to 'therefore!'"
    Remember that many (most?) people's first exposure is not at home, it's in a classroom. Reading the text aloud. And asking a question in front of 30 other people, of a teacher who may or may not be friendly, that might make you look dumb, at an age where looking dumb is a BIG DEAL TM is a lot different than being at home where you can safely ask a question without consequences.

    Hell, it could be even worse. You might not look dumb, but you'll look like you CARE. And caring about class? Super lame.
    Last edited by Rynjin; 2020-05-24 at 04:33 AM.

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    Default Re: Shakespearean English, or "Why is misunderstanding easier than learning?"

    From the start, I should note that I do like Shakespeare. Or at least, there are some of his works I like very much (I'm not a fan of Measure for Measure or Cymbeline, for instance).

    Regarding the idea of "updating" the language in the play... I can see an argument for it in terms of accessibility. I think however that that is entirely outweighed by arguments on the basis of artistic merit. The whole point in Shakespeare is the use of language, and if you translate that, it's lost.

    Yes, we translate foreign authors to English, but three points come to mind. First, those works still lose something in translation. Second, much of the time, with, say, Tolstoy, the really interesting stuff going on is the plot and the storytelling, which is worth reading for its own sake. That's rarely the case in Shakespeare: his plots are usually pretty stock. Third, the language barrier between an English-speaker and Tolstoy is massive. You'd need to learn Russian pretty much fluently to read it in the native language. With Shakespeare, the language is archaic but still comprehensible with a bit of effort.

    I have seen "modern-language" versions of Shakespeare and haven't been taken with them. They're somehow anodyne and banal.
    Quote Originally Posted by Vinyadan View Post
    By the way, do people try to pronounce Shakespeare's words as they would have been pronounced in that age?

    The typical example is with

    Tyger! Tyger! Burning bright
    In the forests of the night:
    What immortal hand or eye
    Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

    Where symmetry goes with eye.

    And one explanation is that in the time of Shakespeare it really did rhyme:

    Full many a glorious morning have I seen
    Flatter the mountain-tops with sovereign eye,
    Kissing with golden face the meadows green,
    Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy;

    and so Blake got licence from there (this sort of historical rhyme exists in other languages, too), or simply assumed an old-fashioned pronunciation, like the old-fashioned tyger with y (where the old-fashioned writing may actually be a signal of how you were supposed to read y in this poem).
    From that example, though, it's clear that poets are perfectly happy to write rhymes that don't actually rhyme, and Shakespeare was no exception. e.g.

    When priests are more in word than matter;
    When brewers mar their malt with water;

    (King Lear)

    "Water" never rhymed with "matter" there - although that hasn't stopped some productions attempting to force it with some cringeworthy results. So we do need to be careful about assuming pronunciation on the basis of apparent rhyme.

    Also, Blake was pretty much mad.


    With that said, I don't know about the pronunciation angle overall. I'm sure some productions do try it, at least some of the time.

    Quote Originally Posted by Fiery Diamond View Post
    Romeo and Juliet is less bad if you don't take it as a romance or tragedy, but instead a sarcastic comedy: "look at how stupid teenagers are! They jump right into believing they're deeply in love for no real reason and are willing to do incredibly idiotic things as a result, even to the point of death!" I mean, it's still kind of morbid to find that funny, but I'm pretty sure that was the actual intention.
    These violent delights have violent ends
    And in their triumph die, like fire and powder
    ...
    Therefore love moderately; long love doth so;
    Too swift arrives as tardy as too slow.

    Advice which the main characters entirely disregard, and ruin everything as a result.
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    Default Re: Shakespearean English, or "Why is misunderstanding easier than learning?"

    Quote Originally Posted by Aedilred View Post
    Regarding the idea of "updating" the language in the play... I can see an argument for it in terms of accessibility. I think however that that is entirely outweighed by arguments on the basis of artistic merit. The whole point in Shakespeare is the use of language, and if you translate that, it's lost.
    The whole point in Shakespeare is the use of language, which was modern and accessible to all the people of its day. You'll forgive me if I find the "artistic merit" argument lacking as I sit back and marvel at the artistic merit of his **** jokes and yo-mama jokes, for example. Proponents if Shakespeare tend to be in a catch 22 of wanting to keep Shakespeare popular and accessible yet refusing any attempt to actually make it popular and accessible. They insist on keeping Shakespeare in an ivory tower despite that this would have been abhored by Shakespeare himself.
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    Default Re: Shakespearean English, or "Why is misunderstanding easier than learning?"

    Quote Originally Posted by Aedilred View Post
    From that example, though, it's clear that poets are perfectly happy to write rhymes that don't actually rhyme, and Shakespeare was no exception. e.g.

    When priests are more in word than matter;
    When brewers mar their malt with water;

    (King Lear)

    "Water" never rhymed with "matter" there - although that hasn't stopped some productions attempting to force it with some cringeworthy results. So we do need to be careful about assuming pronunciation on the basis of apparent rhyme.
    I do believe the word you are looking for is Assonance - of which rhyme is a special case.

    Also, I feel that in the "wherefore" discussion, Bugs Bunny has it right... yes, as the OP notes, it's a joke.


    (Disclaimer: Three years of English Lit concentrating on Julius Caesar was enough to fill me with a profound hatered of the play. I'd probably hate Romeo and Juilet on sight, but really enjoyed the Branagh version of Much Ado about Nothing. Ah, the memories of Richard Briers and BRIAN BLESSED.)
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    Default Re: Shakespearean English, or "Why is misunderstanding easier than learning?"

    Quote Originally Posted by Peelee View Post
    The whole point in Shakespeare is the use of language, which was modern and accessible to all the people of its day. You'll forgive me if I find the "artistic merit" argument lacking as I sit back and marvel at the artistic merit of his **** jokes and yo-mama jokes, for example. Proponents if Shakespeare tend to be in a catch 22 of wanting to keep Shakespeare popular and accessible yet refusing any attempt to actually make it popular and accessible. They insist on keeping Shakespeare in an ivory tower despite that this would have been abhored by Shakespeare himself.
    OK, let me re-posit that statement. If the whole point of Shakespeare is the use of language, then if you rewrite it to make it more accessible, you're removing the whole point of studying/reading/watching it in the first place. It's not by any reasonable definition "Shakespeare" any more. So why bother?
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    Default Re: Shakespearean English, or "Why is misunderstanding easier than learning?"

    Quote Originally Posted by Aedilred View Post
    OK, let me re-posit that statement. If the whole point of Shakespeare is the use of language, then if you rewrite it to make it more accessible, you're removing the whole point of studying/reading/watching it in the first place. It's not by any reasonable definition "Shakespeare" any more. So why bother?
    That would hold up (though I would argue that in that case, why not just leave it for upper-level collegiate classes, where the purists can appreciate it for its purism?). However, if there is any other point to Shakespeare besides the language, that argument falls apart. And, considering that he wrote plays (and not books), wrote for all classes of people (especially the lower classes), wrote for entertainment purposes, and that movies and plays adapted from his works include incredibly famous shows such as West Side Story and The Lion King, and other shows of lesser fame or quality such as 10 Things I Hate About You, Just One of the Guys, She's The Man, Get Over It, A Thousand Acres, O, the list goes on and on and none of these replicate the language at all... it seems like a pretty fair statement to say that the language is not the entire point of Shakespeare. You can further estimate this to be the case if any class on Shakespeare focuses on the themes, characterizations, relevance to cultural or historical issues both historical and contemporary etc. etc.

    So yeah. The people who say Shakespeare is only worthwhile for the language can certainly continue to read and teach such ideals in their ivory towers, far disconnected from the vulgate. And, interestingly enough, far disconnected from the ideals and beliefs of Shakespeare. But hey, they can preserve "wherefore."
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fyraltari View Post
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    Default Re: Shakespearean English, or "Why is misunderstanding easier than learning?"

    Quote Originally Posted by Peelee View Post
    That would hold up (though I would argue that in that case, why not just leave it for upper-level collegiate classes, where the purists can appreciate it for its purism?). However, if there is any other point to Shakespeare besides the language, that argument falls apart. And, considering that he wrote plays (and not books), wrote for all classes of people (especially the lower classes), wrote for entertainment purposes, and that movies and plays adapted from his works include incredibly famous shows such as West Side Story and The Lion King, and other shows of lesser fame or quality such as 10 Things I Hate About You, Just One of the Guys, She's The Man, Get Over It, A Thousand Acres, O, the list goes on and on and none of these replicate the language at all... it seems like a pretty fair statement to say that the language is not the entire point of Shakespeare. You can further estimate this to be the case if any class on Shakespeare focuses on the themes, characterizations, relevance to cultural or historical issues both historical and contemporary etc. etc.

    So yeah. The people who say Shakespeare is only worthwhile for the language can certainly continue to read and teach such ideals in their ivory towers, far disconnected from the vulgate. And, interestingly enough, far disconnected from the ideals and beliefs of Shakespeare. But hey, they can preserve "wherefore."
    Of course there's been a lot based on Shakespeare's plays, but with only a handful of exceptions, none of his plots or stories are really at all original. Of the 39 plays generally attributed to him, around half draw their plots directly from history (as then understood) (the eleven "Histories", plus Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus), or from legend. A couple more, like Othello, borrow their plots entirely from other plays. Most of the remainder are comedies using stock farcical plots which rely heavily on cross-dressing, comical misunderstanding and, yes, knob gags.

    From a storytelling perspective, there are probably about five or six which are really interesting original stories - and, with the exception of Macbeth (which I am exempting from the history-lift because it bears no relation to history) - they're not plays which get commonly re-adapted for new media.

    In most cases it's fair to say that Shakespeare's plays are really just the best-known versions of stories that were already in circulation. Compare for instance the 1959 Ben-Hur: it's by far the best-known version of the story, but it didn't create that story or those characters, and was in itself a remake of a remake of a book adaptation.

    In order for Shakespeare's plays to have become the dominant memetic form of the story, their merit must elsewhere than the story itself. And sure, there are other things going on - characterisation, themes, and so on, but a lot of that lies in the language anyway. The characters are characterised through the vocabulary and the style that they use, which is all part of the language that would inevitably get at the very least altered if not mangled in translation. The themes often rely on wordplay which again would be hard to replicate in translation. The language isn't necessarily the only thing the plays have going for them, but it's what elevates them to the point where they have the reputation they do.



    Besides which, as you point out, we already have perfectly serviceable modern adaptations of Shakespeare's work, which are worth watching in their own right. So why mess about with the originals?

    I'm not saying that nobody should bother to update Shakespeare to modern English. Indeed, plenty have tried (and that there isn't a standard updated version of any of his plays goes to show how difficult it is to produce worthwhile results doing so). But such versions shouldn't replace the originals, unless they are so good that they do so on merit alone.

    As to whether Shakespeare should be taught, and if so at what level... I'm glad I was introduced to it when I was, because I really enjoyed it, but I know a lot of people aren't. Maybe it could be reserved for later in the curriculum, but not so late that you have to be an English-lit major to encounter it at all. I'd never have read any of it, except on an extracurricular basis, and then I'd have struggled to make sense of it. That's only going to make it more elitist and less accessible.

    The other thing is that, taken in the round, Shakespeare has been such a massive influence on the subsequent development of English literature that it's difficult to teach English lit to any meaningful extent without including him. And the versions of Shakespeare which had that influence were the originals, not any modern-language versions, so it seems sensible to teach those.

    And really? I'm not so taken with the idea that Shakespeare is so impenetrable that nobody can understand it anyway. I've been to his plays all over the place, and I've yet to see more than a handful of empty seats at any performance, even at small am-dram showings. Many of them sell out months in advance. People clearly still want to go to see these plays performed in their original language, so it's hardly for ivory-tower-dwellers only.


    There may be an element of the subtitles-versus-dubbing debate in all of this. I know pretty firmly where I stand on that, but I know others differ.
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    Default Re: Shakespearean English, or "Why is misunderstanding easier than learning?"

    Quote Originally Posted by CheesePirate View Post
    This thread made me think of a scene from episode 1 of the brilliant TV series Upstart Crow:
    Oh that was awesome. It's like a word by word of my line of thought reading through this thread.

    Quote Originally Posted by CheesePirate View Post
    "Wherefore" meaning "why" makes perfect sense to a Scandinavian, because that word is still used in our languages. In Norwegian it's "hvorfor" or "korfor", in Swedish it's "varför", in Danish it's "hvorfor".
    I speak Swedish and it wasn't until like 5 seconds before I got to this line I made the connection. More on this later.

    Quote Originally Posted by CheesePirate View Post
    I suppose the reason some people prefer to complain instead of putting some effort into learning is simply that they resent being forced to study something they have no interest in and/or feel they'll never have a use for. For me it was Maths, for others it was Shakespearean English.
    Context will matter. But trying to cram Shakespear on teens is not going to induce a will to learn more.


    Specifically as to the quote brought up by OP. Let me make this clear, for a lot of us the first contact we have with the quote is either 1) devoid of context and 2) especially confusing as the context of the snippet of the scene would lead us to think otherwise.

    "Wherefore art thou, Romeo?. It is easy to break down. Where. Are. You. Romeo. The scene is a lovesick young woman running around looking for something and then peering out from a balcony. (If I remember my scene snippets she even *finds* him just after doesn't she?) Bam! Analysis done. We got the correct answer. Hurray, everyone goes home for the day. It all makes sense and only the conspiratorially insane people are going to start looking at the words and tihnk, "gee, maybe they do *not* mean exactly what they look like they mean". There's no need to go looking deeper for most as they have already decoded the scene. It may not have been correct, but it was close enough and we get to live another day on the savannah dodging lions. Most of the deep thinkers got eaten early on.

    Heck, blame shakespearian actors? If they didn't make the scene so convincingly look like some searching for a thing maybe people would twig faster. I even suspect most plays set up are using the word incorrectly and thus spreading the confusion.

    And probably blame the teachers. This is most likely a thing they should be bringing up in advance. It's a spectacularly bad idea to have kids muddle through literature without clues and then (usually) berate them for not seeing it. Raise your hand if you been asked to read and review a book but was never taught any actual tools to do literary criticism first.

    @OP it is not wilful ignorance, this is how people work, they see a pattern that fits good enough and we go with it. It may not be right all the time. But confirmation bias is a thing, we see what we expect to see. It takes considerable effort to get past it.

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    Default Re: Shakespearean English, or "Why is misunderstanding easier than learning?"

    Quote Originally Posted by snowblizz View Post

    Specifically as to the quote brought up by OP. Let me make this clear, for a lot of us the first contact we have with the quote is either 1) devoid of context and 2) especially confusing as the context of the snippet of the scene would lead us to think otherwise.
    I think it's the first of these that causes a lot of the problems. In all the performances I've seen, while it would be possible to interpret it as her physically searching for him, if you're paying any real attention, it's obvious that she's not, and the following lines make that increasingly clear. (It is, of course, possible that the actors I've seen are going out of their way to avoid any misunderstanding).

    But as you say, I suspect most people's exposure to it is probably out of context - indeed, it's entirely possible that the first time they encounter it is in the very Bugs Bunny cartoon referenced above.

    Indeed it's entirely possible, in fact I'd almost think likely, that the Bugs Bunny writer knew perfectly well that "wherefore" doesn't mean "where" but was just punning either on the similarity or on the popular misconception, the popularity of that then contributing to further misunderstanding.

    Related, but not quite the same, the common expression "Lead on, Macduff". This phrase, of course, appears nowhere in Macbeth. The closest we have is "Lay on, Macduff" in Macbeth's final scene, not inviting Macduff to lead him anywhere but to attack him. Nobody's quite sure how this came about. It's unlikely that anyone watching the play would have got that meaning from it, but by no means impossible. And all it takes is one person to mishear, or be drunk, or whatever, and then repeat it to people unfamiliar with the play, and it takes on a memetic life of its own.


    Moving away from Shakespeare into the realms of popular sayings, someone with an intuitive grasp of effective metaphor once coined the phrase "snatching victory from the jaws of defeat", it seems at some point in the mid-19th century. This became a popular phrase. More recently, some wit reversed the order, probably for comedic effect: "snatch defeat from the jaws of victory", the reversal of elements while keeping the original metaphorical language in play lending it a touch of the absurd and ridiculous. But people were apparently so taken with this that this in itself has become widely used, often devoid of apparent irony, and possibly even without awareness that it in itself is a parody.


    See also more modern pop-culture misquotations like "Beam me up Scotty", "Luke, I am your father" and "Brace yourselves, winter is coming". With the arguable exception of the last one, these don't express a meaning different to the related use seen in the show/film, but it's only been 40-50 years at most, and we've had 400 years for people to make a mess of Shakespeare, so we'll see.
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    Default Re: Shakespearean English, or "Why is misunderstanding easier than learning?"

    Quote Originally Posted by snowblizz View Post
    Oh that was awesome. It's like a word by word of my line of thought reading through this thread.


    I speak Swedish and it wasn't until like 5 seconds before I got to this line I made the connection. More on this later.


    Context will matter. But trying to cram Shakespear on teens is not going to induce a will to learn more.


    Specifically as to the quote brought up by OP. Let me make this clear, for a lot of us the first contact we have with the quote is either 1) devoid of context and 2) especially confusing as the context of the snippet of the scene would lead us to think otherwise.

    "Wherefore art thou, Romeo?. It is easy to break down. Where. Are. You. Romeo. The scene is a lovesick young woman running around looking for something and then peering out from a balcony. (If I remember my scene snippets she even *finds* him just after doesn't she?) Bam! Analysis done. We got the correct answer. Hurray, everyone goes home for the day. It all makes sense and only the conspiratorially insane people are going to start looking at the words and tihnk, "gee, maybe they do *not* mean exactly what they look like they mean". There's no need to go looking deeper for most as they have already decoded the scene. It may not have been correct, but it was close enough and we get to live another day on the savannah dodging lions. Most of the deep thinkers got eaten early on.

    Heck, blame shakespearian actors? If they didn't make the scene so convincingly look like some searching for a thing maybe people would twig faster. I even suspect most plays set up are using the word incorrectly and thus spreading the confusion.

    And probably blame the teachers. This is most likely a thing they should be bringing up in advance. It's a spectacularly bad idea to have kids muddle through literature without clues and then (usually) berate them for not seeing it. Raise your hand if you been asked to read and review a book but was never taught any actual tools to do literary criticism first.

    @OP it is not wilful ignorance, this is how people work, they see a pattern that fits good enough and we go with it. It may not be right all the time. But confirmation bias is a thing, we see what we expect to see. It takes considerable effort to get past it.
    Except it's not "Wherefore art thou, Romeo?" It's "Wherefore art thou Romeo?" As you'll recall, that distinction was actually what got me started on my little rant - unless the actor has no idea what it means or is a complete hack, they shouldn't be saying it like the former. And as for context, it's immediately followed by "Deny thy father and refuse thy name," which has nothing to do with searching or location, so if you're going to blame the scene it happens in... I grant you that the line sans context is probably pretty meaningless to people first exposed to it, though. And that there are a lot of hack actors, unfortunately.

    Absolutely agree on blaming the teachers. Learning the language is absolutely a thing they should be doing in advance, and I agree with your assertion on how terrible terrible teaching is.

    And I'll repeat - perhaps my upbringing is simply different enough from "standard," but... by the time someone is in high school, that "considerable effort" you describe should be second nature. I blame our education system that doesn't teach how to learn, it just presents information and expects students to absorb it somehow.
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