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
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