Thursday, April 15, 2010

There's No Need to Fear, Shakespeare is Here

Not too long ago I was browsing at my local Barnes and Noble looking to buy a copy of "Tax Evasion for Dummies"[1] when I happened across a book series entitled "No Fear Shakespeare."  As far as I could tell without actually picking the book up and reading it, the premise is to take the works of William Shakespeare and translate them into English so that the uneducated, semi-literate morons inhabiting the 21st century (which is to say, dopes like me) can understand them.  Personally, I think this endeavor is a stupid waste of time.  If William Shakespeare didn't have the foresight to write his plays using language that would be coherent four hundred years later, I say screw him.  Let his works vanish into literary oblivion like those of German playwright Henrich Von Weissenheimer (1733-1768), author of obscure classics like Helmut the XXVII, The Merchant of Ochsenhausen, and the unforgettable tragedy Hamburg.[2]

Seriously though, why bother dumbing down Shakespeare?  Are there actually people out there dying to read Romeo and Juliet, only to be linguistically thwarted by all the "forsooths" and "wherefore art thous"Would these folks really rush out to the bookstore to buy the simplified version?  And how artistic would Shakespeare for Dummies really be?  Since I didn't bother doing research, I'm just going to talk out of my ass here[3] and show you what I assume the revisions look like.

"To be, or not to be.  That is the question."  Hamlet, Act III, Scene I
"I should probably just friggin' kill myself.  Or not.  Damn, I'm screwed up."  Hamlet, No Fear Shakespeare

"What's in a name?  That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet."  Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene II
"He can call himself metrosexual if he wants to, but to me he's a friggin' tulip."  Romeo and Juliet, No Fear Shakespeare

"We have seen better days."  Timon of Athens, Act IV, Scene II
"Well, this sucks."  Timon of Athens, No Fear Shakespeare

I guess my point here is that if you have to water something down that much in order to make it accessible to the masses, it's not worth the trouble.  Writing simpler versions of Shakespearean plays makes as much sense as having Keanu Reeves star in a movie version of Much Ado About Nothing.

He did?  Oh, well, see what I mean?

Speaking of marketing to the lowest common denominator, don't you think the "For Dummies" series has gotten a little bit out of hand?  It was one thing when they focused on topics that were confusing for everyone, like "Electrical Wiring For Dummies" or "Microsoft Windows For Dummies" but now they've come out with (and I'm not making this up) "Pregnancy For Dummies".[4]

First of all, I was surprised to find out this wasn't about Jim Bob and Michelle Dugger, but when I saw this book on the shelf I had to ask myself who the heck was it written for?  Is there anyone who actually doesn't understand how to get pregnant?[5]  As Cole Porter said, birds do it.  Bees do it.  Even educated fleas do it.  Hell, the other night I caught my dog Munson out in the back yard trying to hump an armadillo.  While his efforts were futile (not to mention frigging hilarious), he did seem to have the mechanics figured out.  It's really not that complicated.  Did the "For Dummies" people reduce the process to a song akin to the Hokey Pokey?  You put your whole self in, you put your whole self out, you put your whole self in and you shake it all about?  Perhaps.  More importantly, though, if someone needs to consult a handbook on how to get pregnant, should they really be reproducing in the first place?

Meanwhile, there are plenty of subjects that aren't covered in the Dummies series that I personally could benefit from.  "Watching the Ballgame On TV Without Someone (Who Shall Remain Nameless) Nagging You to Do Something Around the House Goddammit For Dummies" is one example, but "Keeping Your Stupid Mouth Shut When the Cop Pulls You Over For Dummies" and possibly "Determining the Correct Gender of the Overly-Aggressive Chick in the Bar For Dummies" would've served me well at various points of my life also.

Unlike the works of Shakespeare, there are some things that really should be made a bit simpler.

[1] Just kidding, Mr. Internal Revenue Service man.

[2] When he first read Hamlet in 1752, Weissenheimer was outraged, accusing Shakespeare of stealing his idea.  He attempted to file a lawsuit for copyright infringement, but when he was told that Shakespeare had, in fact, died over a century earlier he decided (wisely) to drop the whole thing.

[3] Raise your hand if you thought, "Yeah, what else is new?"

[4] They especially missed the boat by not having one for ventriloquists entitled "Dummies for Dummies".

[5] Knowing how is one thing, finding someone willing to participate in the process with you is something else entirely.


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Debbie(single;complicated) said...

Ha ha ha! I laughed out loud.. Your updated version of Shakespeare was priceless!!! loved this post!

Moooooog35 said...

I'm waiting for 'Writing a Book for Dummies for Dummies' to come out.

Then I can write a book!

Suldog said...

Bravo! Bravissimo! Molto Bene!

Translated, for dummies: ROTFLMAO!

(Just as an aside: ANY post that referenced Timon of Athens would have received similar approbation. It's my favorite. As usual, this means that nobody else especially likes it.)

KaLynn said...

TOtally hilarious! Thanks for the all out kackle this morning!

Grumpy, M.D. said...

Wait, you mean to say that reading "Neurology for Dummies" ISN'T a legitimate way to learn how to do this job?

Crap. Do I have to tell my patients now?

Eva Gallant said...

How about Brain Surgery for Dummies? There's a handy tome!
Great post!

Michelle H. said...

"Lobotomies for Dummies." Then again, we wouldn't have anything to laugh about during the screw-ups.

You forget to do the famous line in Hamlet:

"Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him well."

"Damn, I'm glad this is your skull and not mine."

Heff said...

"Et Tu, Brutae' ? Lol.

Jules said...

Wow... looks like I've got some reading to do. In the meantime, I've left a link on my blog to yours for readers to enjoy :)

Stacie's Madness said...

great post, thank you! LOL

insomniac ellen said...

loved this--especially since all of my post titles are quotes from Shakespeare.

as a non-professional actress I have tackled 2 of his plays. The first one being playing Gertrude in Hamlet. I figured if I was gonna fall on my ass, fall big. No Lady-in-Waiting crap, ya know....

Maggie said...

I taught English so I'm touching the Shakespeare thing...

And I saw a book called "dating for Dummies"; if you buy that book, I think the person should lose all dating rights.

Furthermore, I saw "Depression for Dummies".... wouldn't that make it worse? Do I need to elaborate?

ReformingGeek said...

"Blogging for Dummies"

Oh, wait. Is it on sale?

Homemaker Man said...

Dummies for Dummies: How to dress mannequins.

mr loser said...

If you haven't already, watch "The Complete Works of Shakespeare, Abridged" by the Reduced Shakespeare Company -- freakin' hilarious. Live show is much better than DVD version.

Linnnn said...

I actually KNOW someone who writes some of the "...For Dummies" books. I'm sharing this right to him!

And I LOVE Shakespeare in his original form, but your translations are priceless. How you impressed me with your "citations."

What a piece of work are you!

Jeff said...

Brilliantly funny post, Chris.

This reminds me of the episode of Cheers where the guys are attempting to read "A Tale of Two Cities." Actually, Frazier does the reading.

He starts (not surprisingly, at the beginning) with this: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair..."

Cliff interrupts: "This Dickens guy sure kept his butt covered, didn't he?"

Katy Cole said...

I just wanted to state that what those translated versions do is take the old style of phrasing and put it into modern phrasing....this came in handy when I was trying to read Julius Caesar with a class of 10th grade special ed. students. (although I still needed to sum it up for them after each scene) I do like your interpretation though.. :)

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