Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Fret dips into No-Fear Shakespeare

Oh, sweet Jesus. One of my students recommended a "study aid" called No-Fear Shakespeare to the class. It's a sort of facing-page "translation" of Shakespeare into modern English. (Yes, I know Shakespeare is already in modern English.) I said very quickly that I didn't endorse the recommendation, but I felt like I owed them a fuller explanation of why not, so I've been poking around on the NFS web site for examples of lines that lose a great deal in translation. For your delectation, here are some of my favorites so far.

How now, my lord of Worcester?

"Hello there, my lord of Worcester!"

And when I told thee he was of my counsel
Of my whole course of wooing, thou cried’st “Indeed?”

"And when I told you he was involved the whole time I was trying to get Desdemona, you were like, 'Oh, really?'"

The Myrmidons are no bottle-ale houses.

"Great warriors aren't mom-and-pop diners, you know."

Let our catch be 'Thou Knave'.

"Let's dance to 'You Jerk'."

Malvolio's a Peg-a-Ramsey.

"Malvolio's Little Bo-Peep."

They need a new name, though. I am very afraid.


undine said...

Is this for real? It reads like a McSweeney's parody of Shakespeare.

Fretful Porpentine said...

It is for real. SparkNotes markets it to students as "a modern translation you can understand." No shit.

Susan said...

*head desk*

moria said...



Excuse me, I got really excited at the idea that one might actually want (let alone think oneself able) to translate 'myrmidons are no bottle-ale houses.' (I am also rather fond of the word 'myrmidon.')

Sometimes I think that Horace Howard Furness turns in his grave when his spirit gets to thinking about the fact that the library he endowed now houses No Fear alongside (well, across the aisle from) his own noble volumes. And sometimes, I think he's just laughing. And I'm laughing with him.

In any case, perhaps this is a moment for 'teaching the controversy'?

Sisyphus said...


heu mihi said...

Let's dance to 'You Jerk'!

Like, really!

Bardiac said...

I LOVE the dance thing and the "you were like" bit. Totally, dude. Awesome.



Fretful Porpentine said...

Heu Mihi -- It gets better. No-Fear Feste's next line is "You mean, “Shut up, you jerk”? That’s the song where the singers call each other jerks, right? So I’ll be forced to call you a jerk, Sir Andrew."

Way to over-explain a joke...

Moria -- I don't know whether I'm more bemused by the fact that someone attempted to translate that line, or by the fact that the translation makes even less sense than the original.

Unknown said...

John McWhorter in the January 2010 issue of American Theater magazine has an article calling for better translations of Shakespeare. Here is the link:

Inspired by a an earlier article by McWhorther, I began writing verse translations about 10 years ago. If you want to see what a more careful and serious translation looks like, you can see excerpts at

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

This sounds to me like a really good in-class activity: come up with the "best" (most incongruous) translation of lines in whatever play the class is working on.

Captcha = swincub. I thought that was a piglet. Another translation?

Renaissance Girl said...

you were like, 'Oh, really?'"

I feel sick.