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Were Shakespeare books translated to contemporary English? Which version is more common? Is there a rule to choose which books will have its language updated? Are poems updated too? From which year I should expect that books have a "translation"?

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closed as off topic by Robusto, MrHen, F'x, RegDwigнt May 25 '11 at 8:48

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Mostly this question just makes me roll my eyes heavenwards, but I feel I have to upvote it because it's so (refreshingly? gob-smackingly?) unexpected. – FumbleFingers May 23 '11 at 16:52
Whe you say '"were translated", do you mean at the time Sh. wrote them, did somebody translate them to the then current vernacular? Or did you really mean "are translated", that is, are there currently (now) 'translations' to early 21st c. Standard English? Or something else? – Mitch May 23 '11 at 17:28
Did Shakespeare write books? I thought he wrote plays and poems. As to the tense of the question: Mabe Jader Dias means "have been" instead of "were". – teylyn May 23 '11 at 20:59
We already have the right answers but to sum up I would say that Contemporary English updates or translations are available for works in Early Modern English but it's certainly not de rigueur that all works are treated this way as a matter of course. – hippietrail May 24 '11 at 3:34
@Mitch @teylyn I'm no native English speaker and, even after you commented I can't figure out how to be more clear. I'm glad some people understood me and answered accordingly. I never read Shakespeare, I just used his name because it is centuries old. – Jader Dias May 24 '11 at 11:55
up vote 16 down vote accepted

Shakespeare is considered Modern English, and is almost never rendered in contemporary English. It is usually edited for spelling and other reasons, however, depending on your edition.

There is no "freshness date" that triggers a translation, though. It depends in large part on which version of English is being cited. Much of Middle English (e.g., Chaucer) is updated to be readable by high-school students, but left intact in scholarly works and upper-level college texts. Old English texts (Beowulf, "The Dream of the Rood", The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and the like) are almost always translated, except for students of Old English (or Linguistics) who are studying the language.

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"Freshness date" makes me giggle. :) – Marthaª May 23 '11 at 16:54
You know, it's just like a question about where the lines between Old English, Middle English, and Modern English are drawn. Something written at the very end of the Old English period compared with something written at the very beginning of the Middle English period might show more similarities to one another than to something from the very, very end of the Middle English period. (Hm, I might need to translate that last sentence into something intelligible...) – Kosmonaut May 23 '11 at 18:37
@Kosmonaut, @Robusto: Obviously language is a continuum, but personally I tend to view Shakespeare as a dividing line. He's such a towering figure that some things which might otherwise be 'archaic' are still 'current' just because of him. And as Robusto implies, mostly we can actually understand him. Original Chaucer is pretty opaque to me, and Beowulf might as well be in ancient Sanskrit - and my degree is in English! – FumbleFingers May 23 '11 at 21:28
@FumbleFingers: Shakespeare's English is considered part of Modern English, which is what we speak today, so there isn't supposed to be a dividing line between his language and ours. – Kosmonaut May 23 '11 at 22:09
I once heard that there's less difference between modern English and Shakespeare than between Shakespeare and once century before him. I don't actually know if that's true or not. – Andrew Grimm May 23 '11 at 23:20

You are free to update any work you like that is out of copyright.

There is a good source of modern Shakespeare. The trouble is that if you update the language you lose the rhythm of the prose. Since generally the storyline in Shakespeare makes airport novels look good, without the phrasing there isn't a lot of point.

Then there is the issue of context: do you upgrade locations and people (like moneylenders) to modern equivalents? Or do you just use the basic idea and write West Side Story?

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+1 for raising the issue of context. – FumbleFingers May 23 '11 at 16:45
IMHO, Resettings of Shakespeare are almost always interesting. And they are numerous. The films Ran and 10 Things I Hate About You, the play The Complete Works of Shakespeare, abridged, or the novel Wyrd Sisters are all good contemporary examples. – RBerteig May 23 '11 at 20:29
Is the phrase, "generally the storyline in Shakespeare" meaningful? He usually was taking a classic tale popular in his time and rewriting it for the stage. As a result, depending on the play in question, some of his plots are quite gripping. I don't have to list them here as they are so well regarded and copied by Hollywood constantly. He does have weaker plays that are more vulnerable to criticism. Still, there's something disquieting about praising a bodice-ripper over Henry IV, for instance. – The Raven May 23 '11 at 21:20
@The Raven - just saying you don't watch a shakespeare comedy for the clever plot twists! – mgb May 24 '11 at 3:55
The issue of whether "shakespearean plots" are simplistically silly or profound is a huge question. Exactly the same tremendous question applies to all major narrative artworks of the last 5000 years ... so, Star Wars, the Odyssey, etc. – Joe Blow Mar 24 '15 at 6:04

A simple google search confirms that there is a large market for translations of Shakespeare into contemporary English.

You may notice that many of those editions are intended for secondary school students.

One may quibble about what translation means or what Modern English is but there it is.

However, I do think it is rare (I couldn't find one on that list, without looking too far) that a 'translation' is published that doesn't have the original on the other page.

There's no rule as to what text is translated or not (no date cutoff, etc), just a small market voice that says "Hey, all the kids are complaining they don't understand what's going on, is there a modern version of this stuff?".

As to translating Shakespeare's poems, probably not (in my abbreviated perusal I didn't see any); if you really want to read his poetry, you probably wouldn't care for the translation. Most of the plays are written in verse themselves, so there's that paradox to resolve; the teachers (and parents) expect the students to be exposed to Shakespeare's plays, the students would rather not and the side-by-side translation is a middle ground, and in the honors English class where the poetry is actually read, well, what's the point of not reading the original.

The King James Version of the Protestant Bible has been 'translated' quite a bit and it was published in the same period (early 1600's).

Between that time and now, I don't think any literature has been popular enough and hard to read enough that the market made a translation viable. A hundred years later, Robinson Crusoe came out and that is very readable.

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I think books regarded as suitable for children, such as Gulliver's Travels, might be the most likely to have their English modified.

Then there's Huckleberry Finn: Required Reading Edition's much-mocked removal of the n-word and the like. I wouldn't quite call it a Bowdlerization as it's reflecting changing attitudes.

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