Sunday, February 11, 2018

Watch Spark Notes Destroy Shakespeare

Doing a quick online search for the text to the Witches' scene in Macbeth, so I could read it out loud to two of my children, I was taken to the Sparknotes "No Fear Shakespeare" version. This offers both the original and a "Modern Text," which, well, let me show you:
Shakespeare:Thrice the brinded cat hath mewed.

No Fear Shakespeare: The tawny cat has meowed three times.
Something is, um, lacking. More:
Shakespeare: Round about the cauldron go,
In the poisoned entrails throw.

No Fear Shakespeare:Dance around the cauldron and throw in the poisoned entrails.

Shakespeare: Oh well done! I commend your pains,
And every one shall share i' th' gains.

No Fear Shakespeare: Well done! I admire your efforts, and all of you will share the rewards.
Truly we live in  prosaic age.


G. Verloren said...

Are you unfamiliar with the purpose of Spark Notes and similar works?

Obviously they're going to disregard the poetics. That's the point. Such texts exist purely to convey the literal content of the story, in simple language.

Parallels can be drawn to the Simple English Wikipedia, where you can read about complicated and technical topics like rocketry or organic chemistry, but described using only the 1,000 - 2,000 most common and basic English words, and using very simple grammar and short sentences.

Yes, rendering Shakespeare in Simple English robs it of its literary and poetic qualities. But it makes the actual content of the story easier to understand. For someone grappling with achieving even just a basic comprehension of what a sentence of Shakespeare means, the poetics are going to be lost on them anyway, so I don't really see the harm. They need to be able to follow along without feeling like they're totally lost before they have any hope of appreciating the finer aspects of Shakespeare.

And before you lament that there are people out there who need this kind of assistance, do remember that not everyone speaks English natively, and that this sort of text is of colossal benefit to someone approaching Shakespeare from a different linguistic origin. And even for native speakers, being utterly fluent in contemporary English is often not enough to make sense of the unusual grammar and vocabulary of Shakespeare's Early Modern English, unless you're well read and broadly educated enough to come pre-equipped with those tools.

John said...

Sure, I know what Sparksnotes are for. But in this case the meaning of the words is beside the point. This is pure verbal music, as much akin to nonsense rhymes as it is to exposition. Without the poetry there is nothing here at all.

I actually looked at the "No Fear Shakespeare" of some other famous passages but I found them pretty useful, so not mockable. But this is like rendering music into prose.

Shadow said...

It's almost as if the author abhors the idea of SparkNotes and is showing his or her distain by distilling the poetry and imagery from the text and leaving the reader with what's left.