Foreigners Understand Shakespeare Better than English-Speakers

It’s a sad reality, but English-speakers understand Shakespeare less than anyone else. That’s because foreigners regularly translate the bard’s plays — into German, Spanish, Mandarin, etc. — so they’re free to use language they understand. But English-language productions usually refuse to translate or even to edit Shakespeare. So audiences have to wrap their heads around 400-plus years of language change.

Semantic Drift

Shakespeare's Juliet, Romeo and Juliet
Juliet by Philip Hermogenes Calderon, 1888

Most Shakespearean confusion results from semantic drift: changes in the meaning of words. Juliet says, “Romeo, oh Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” To us, it seems Juliet asks, “where are you, Romeo?” (That would actually make some sense for the scene on the balcony.) But “wherefore” meant “why” in Shakespeare’s time. So Juliet asks (rhetorically), “why are you Romeo?” Why does her new boyfriend have a name that ties him to an enemy family? Continue reading “Foreigners Understand Shakespeare Better than English-Speakers”

“Thay”: Gender-Neutral Pronoun

Here’s a crazy idea that might work.

“They” has become the English language’s preferred third person singular pronoun, for gender-neutral use. But of course, we use the same pronoun for the third person plural. That creates confusion. Why not revise the pronoun’s spelling when it’s singular? Why not switch out the “e” for an “a”?

You’d need only a few words of explanation. “In this [article/book], I use ‘thay,’ ‘thair,’ and ‘tham’ as third person singular pronouns, equivalent to ‘they,’ ‘their,’ and ‘them.’ I use the latter three solely as third person plural pronouns. Continue reading ““Thay”: Gender-Neutral Pronoun”

See the Face of Richard III

This is cool.

King Richard III has been a subject of mystery for more than 500 years. Did he really murder his little nephews, “the Princes in the Tower”? Did he really have a hunchback? Was he as evil as the lead character in Shakespeare’s Richard III? The king’s death in 1485 put an end to the Plantagenet line, which had ruled since the 1154 coronation of Henry II — and opened the way for the Tudors and the modern English state. But it did little to end the controversy. In fact, there’s a Richard III Society to this day, founded in 1924 to un-blacken the king’s name — and there’s a word in the English language, “Ricardian,” for people who defend his  honor. Continue reading “See the Face of Richard III”

“Anonymous” and the Shakespeare Controversy

Don’t let lukewarm reviews fool you: Anonymous is a really good movie. It includes some far-fetched plot-twists, but overall it builds a compelling drama out of the theory that William Shakespeare did not write Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Hamlet, and the other plays and poems attributed to him. It’s a fascinating idea and worth a close look. Continue reading ““Anonymous” and the Shakespeare Controversy”