Modern, yet “full of forms, figures, shapes, objects”


Shakespeare's English
Fear of Shakespeare
Modern Translations
Holofernes' Lessons

How to Cite



With over four hundred years separating today’s millennials from Shakespeare’s plays, it is little wonder that students and teachers have pegged Elizabethan English as difficult—if not impossible—to understand. Generally, the motivation for students who seek such resources or for teachers who furnish them comes from a shared assumption that Shakespeare’s language is indecipherable to today’s audiences—or, just too difficult to grasp. There are even some students (and, teachers) who operate under the false premise that Shakespeare’s plays are composed in Old English, a language that thrived centuries prior to Shakespeare’s earliest works. To make visible the troubling implications of so-called “modern” or “contemporary” translations of Shakespeare’s works, I will look to Shakespeare’s most academic play, Love’s Labour’s Lost, to propose how today’s students are complicit in dismissing Shakespeare for his words as much as audiences of Shakespeare’s time laughed away Holofernes. In addition to surveying a critical history of supplementary resources designed to ease the burden of Shakespeare’s language, an analysis of Holofernes’ stage presence will offer a natural opportunity to explore what happens if we willingly replace Shakespeare’s English for English that is perceived as easier—or, according to some outlets, even truer. This article sets out to complicate the facility and pervasiveness of such contemporary translations by calling attention to the language lessons Holofernes teaches through his folly, revealing that such work is, “not generous, not gentle, not humble” (Love’s Labour’s V.ii.617).

Copyright (c) 2020 Michael Andrew Albright

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Authors who publish with this journal agree to the following terms:

Authors retain copyright and grant the journal right of first publication with the work simultaneously licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License that allows others to share the work with an acknowledgement of the work's authorship and initial publication in this journal.

Authors are able to enter into separate, additional contractual arrangements for the non-exclusive distribution of the journal's published version of the work (e.g., post it to an institutional repository or publish it in a book), with an acknowledgement of its initial publication in this journal.

Authors are permitted and encouraged to post their work online (e.g., in institutional repositories or on their website) prior to and during the submission process, as it can lead to productive exchanges, as well as earlier and greater citation of published work (See The Effect of Open Access).

Bergen Open Access Publishing