Thursday, April 19, 2012

I'm Back…and Still Angry!

I know, I know, I've been gone for a long time. I'm very, very sorry. I was away from the blog writing and producing my own web series. It's very literary and firmly ensconced in BookWorld, only a lot nicer than what I tend to write here. Check it out at

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming. I thought I'd dive back into my Shakespearean Pet Peeves. So here it is, the silver medal pet peeve:

Shakespeare Made Stupid 

 If you walk into any major chain bookstore at this point and head to the Shakespeare section you'll be hard-pressed to find a version of his works that has not been dumbed down in some soul-crushing, literature- destroying way. It kills something inside of me every time I see some student buying a version of a great work of literature that has been stripped of so much of what makes it beautiful.

I understand that the language can be daunting, but one of the major reasons we read is to attain knowledge - so use it as a way to learn. My parents started taking me to see Shakespeare productions when I was about four or five. I certainly did not understand every word, or even most of the words, but I could follow the story well enough by listening for the words I did know. Then when I was old enough to start reading Shakespeare on my own I could infer what the words I didn't know meant in context. Or I could use one of those magical dictionary things. Or I could ask my English teacher at school. Even while studying the Bard on a college level I ran into things I didn't understand, and I found a special dictionary just for Shakespeare's works. And now that the magical Internet exists there's really no excuse for running in terror from every thee and thou and bodkin. The one thing I never did was ask someone to dumb it down for me, because that's cheating.

Not only is it lazy, but it loses so much in the dumbing-down process. Frankly “But soft what light through yonder window breaks?” loses a lot of it's beauty and magic when it turns into “But wait, what's that light in the window over there?” And the philosophical musing of “To be or not to be, that is the question.” becomes the pedestrian “The question is: is it better to be alive or dead?” And once you stripped all the beauty and poetry away- you're not reading Shakespeare anymore. You're reading some modern editor's soulless version of one of the English languages most enduring artists. See- these things make me REALLY angry. And that's why my co-workers would gather around if someone asked me for one.  There was a pool going for what Shakespeare- related stupid question would finally push me over the edge.

Now- I'm not judging the storybook versions of the plays written for children. I think they're a great way to introduce anyone under the age of eleven to the stories of Shakespeare, so when they're old enough they can delve into the language. However, after middle school you should be able to make your way through the play in its original form.

So if you've read the Cliffs Notes, Spark Notes, Monarch Notes, Shakespeare-Made-Simple, or Barron's Side-by-Side versions of Hamlet, then I'm sorry to tell you – you have not read Hamlet. In fact, if it's one of the Notes versions, you haven't even read a book or a story. You've read what's left over when language, character, story and poetry have been removed from a cornerstone of the literary canon. And heaven help you if you ask me for an “English translation” of one of the greatest works of English literature, because I will absolutely give you a lecture about the language as I walk you to the shelf and hand you the most expensive version of the play you're looking for. I call it a stupidity tax, and my friend, you've earned it.

BookWench just finished reading Tough Sh*t by Kevin Smith.  He's my film-making inspiration, and this book was amazing.  I laughed, I cried, I used about 25 Post-it flags for the important bits.


  1. Your hands would start to twitch when AP season rolled around and they started coming for Shakespeare. I was afraid you'd just dice up a teenager, stash him in the stacks, and wander around muttering about flashlights and hand sanitizer.

    I never considered stopping you, though. Totally justified.

    1. There were days when I came so close. Then I could go full on Lady Macbeth in the back room.