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Shakespeare’s Plays to be Translated into Modern English

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Bad news for Shakespeare purists, good news for struggling English students: The Oregon Shakespeare Festival recently announced a project called “Play On!” which will task 36 playwrights with translating the plays attributed to the Bard into “contemporary modern English.”

The OSF says that the diverse group of playwrights, which they say will be least 50 percent women and at least 50 percent people of color, were asked to “put the same pressure and rigor of language as Shakespeare did on his, keeping in mind meter, rhythm, metaphor, image, rhyme, rhetoric and emotional content.” The theatre arts organization explains that the goal of “Play On!” isn't to improve or replace the original texts, but to have “39 unique side-by-side companion translations of Shakespeare’s plays that are both performable and extremely useful reference texts for both classrooms and productions.”

“There are differences between the early modern English of Shakespeare and contemporary English," Lue Morgan Douthit, the organization's director of literary development and dramaturgy, said in a press release. "What if we looked at these plays at the language level through the lens of dramatists? What would we learn about how they work? Would that help us understand them in a different way?"

In a FAQ on the OSF website, the organization addresses concerns about the project, how the writers will approach the translation of the more famous quotes, and how far they will take the modernization of Shakespeare’s texts. “The writers are empowered to leave any text alone if they want to, and we expect they often will ... it will be interesting to see what each playwright does with Shakespeare’s best-known passages; we will engage in deep dialogue with them about all their choices, while of course leaving the final artistic decisions to them.”

There are already some pretty inventive and geeky versions of Shakespeare's work floating around the Internet, but the OSF makes the distinction between translation and adaptation, noting that “everything to do with setting, time period, references etc. will remain unchanged. As such, pop-culture references and contemporary slang will not be appropriate, and the politics of the original plays will not be cut or 'fixed' in any way.”

Reactions to the translation news have been mixed. John H. McWhorter, a linguistics, American Studies, philosophy, and music professor at Columbia University, wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal that argues in favor of making Shakespeare more "comprehensible":

"Much of Shakespeare goes over our heads because, even though we recognize the words, their meaning often has changed significantly over the past four centuries ... we can piece these meanings together, of course, by reading the play and consulting stacks of footnotes. But Shakespeare didn’t intend for us to do that. He wrote plays for performance. We’re supposed to be able to hear and understand what’s spoken on the stage, in real time."

Author Lev Raphael disagrees. He writes at the Huffington Post that it is "the job of the director and the actors to make the play comprehensible to the audience ... why should some well-meaning pedant be making decisions about what people do or don't understand, rewriting great poetry and spoon-feeding them Shakespeare Lite?"

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section, preferably in iambic pentameter.

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Big Questions
Where Should You Place the Apostrophe in President's Day?
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Happy Presidents’ Day! Or is it President’s Day? Or Presidents Day? What you call the national holiday depends on where you are, who you’re honoring, and how you think we’re celebrating.

Saying "President’s Day" infers that the day belongs to a singular president, such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays are the basis for the holiday. On the other hand, referring to it as "Presidents’ Day" means that the day belongs to all of the presidents—that it’s their day collectively. Finally, calling the day "Presidents Day"—plural with no apostrophe—would indicate that we’re honoring all POTUSes past and present (yes, even Andrew Johnson), but that no one president actually owns the day.

You would think that in the nearly 140 years since "Washington’s Birthday" was declared a holiday in 1879, someone would have officially declared a way to spell the day. But in fact, even the White House itself hasn’t chosen a single variation for its style guide. They spelled it “President’s Day” here and “Presidents’ Day” here.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Maybe that indecision comes from the fact that Presidents Day isn’t even a federal holiday. The federal holiday is technically still called “Washington’s Birthday,” and states can choose to call it whatever they want. Some states, like Iowa, don’t officially acknowledge the day at all. And the location of the punctuation mark is a moot point when individual states choose to call it something else entirely, like “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” in Arkansas, or “Birthdays of George Washington/Thomas Jefferson” in Alabama. (Alabama loves to split birthday celebrations, by the way; the third Monday in January celebrates both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert E. Lee.)

You can look to official grammar sources to declare the right way, but even they don’t agree. The AP Stylebook prefers “Presidents Day,” while Chicago Style uses “Presidents’ Day.”

The bottom line: There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Go with what feels right. And even then, if you’re in one of those states that has chosen to spell it “President’s Day”—Washington, for example—and you use one of the grammar book stylings instead, you’re still technically wrong.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Here's the Right Way to Pronounce Kitchenware Brand Le Creuset

If you were never quite sure how to pronounce the name of beloved French kitchenware brand Le Creuset, don't fret: For the longest time, southern chef, author, and PBS personality Vivian Howard wasn't sure either.

In this video from Le Creuset, shared by Food & Wine, Howard prepares to sear some meat in her bright orange Le Creuset pot and explains, "For the longest time I had such a crush on them but I could never verbalize it because I didn’t know how to say it and I was so afraid of sounding like a big old redneck." Listen closely as she demonstrates the official, Le Creuset-endorsed pronunciation at 0:51.

Le Creuset is known for its colorful, cast-iron cookware, which is revered by pro chefs and home cooks everywhere. The company first introduced their durable pots to the world in 1925. Especially popular are their Dutch ovens, which are thick cast-iron pots that have been around since the 18th century and are used for slow-cooking dishes like roasts, stews, and casseroles.

[h/t Food & Wine]

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