Monday, March 30, 2009

Did Modern English Started with William Shakespeare?

His works were credited as the starting point of the Modern English era, but does William Shakespeare truly deserve as the benchmark of the start of Modern English?

By: Vanessa Uy

It is now widely accepted that Beowulf is the definitive benchmark that defined the time period of the Old English era, while Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales is a prime example of a Middle English work of literature. And Edmund Spenser’s the Faerie Queene is acknowledge by some scholars the last great work of the Middle English period. While William Shakespeare’s works – acknowledge by some as the beginning of the Modern English period – has it’s share of detractors professing to facts supporting that Shakespeare’s works can’t truly be defined as Modern English. But first, a brief definition on what constitutes Old, Middle, and Modern English.

Webster’s dictionary defines Old English as the language of the English people from the time of the earliest documents in the 7th Century to about 1100, or any form of English of any period before Modern English. While Middle English is defined as the English in manuscripts of the 12th to 15th Centuries – also often defined as the transition period between Old English and Modern English. While Modern English is defined as a form of English having the characteristics of the present or most recent period of development of the English language.

The controversy whether the literary works of William Shakespeare can truly be described as belonging to the Modern English era was put forth by scholars who based their evidence of the contrary via archival first drafts of Shakespeare’s works. Noting that Shakespeare more often than not lacked a consistent spelling of some oft used English words. Even citing that Shakespeare spelled these words according to his creative whim. Which will do him no favors for the literate scholars and scribes at the time trying to record his literary works for posterity.

Scholars who subscribe to this point of view – or school of thought – ascribe the true origin of Modern English to Dr. Samuel Johnson, the author of the first definitive English dictionary. Dr. Samuel Johnson might as well be as good a candidate for being credited for the invention of Modern English, because of his authorship of the first truly definitive English dictionary. Which means that from that point on there now exist benchmarks and ground-rules on how to properly spell English words in accordance to a well-defined set of rules. Rather than spelling them according to whomever bard-come-lately’s creative whim. Sadly, the “creative molestation” of the now formalized Modern English language didn’t end with William Shakespeare’s whimsical, idiosyncratic and sometimes deliberate misspellings.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Should Shakespeare’s Works Be Translated To Other Languages?

Given that many non-native English speakers around the world have learned the Queen’s English through the works of William Shakespeare, should his works be translated to other languages?

By: Vanessa Uy

To me at least, I think the literary works of William Shakespeare should be left in their original English language – make that Modern English version. Given that they are often used by everyone around the world since Britain ruled the high seas as a way to learn the Queen’s English before US President Barack Obama’s inauguration speech, which recently gained popularity as an English language learning aid. And yet it seems like Shakespeare has even gained global dominance once his literary works were translated into other languages, especially into those languages that are very different in comparison to Romance and / or Latin-based languages.

One of the noted contemporary translators of Shakespeare’s literary works into German is Frank Günther. According to Günther, one of the secrets of becoming one of the best critically acclaimed translators of Shakespeare’s literary works into the German language is by not resorting into anachronism – i.e. one should avoid using words and phrases that came way after the time of Shakespeare when translating his works. Phrases like “letting off steam” or it’s equivalent in other languages should not be used when translating the literary works of Shakespeare because the phrase only came into existence during the Victorian-era Industrial Revolution of Great Britain. Which is way after our English Bard’s regular stints at the Globe Theater back in Queen Elizabeth I ’s Golden Age.

Even though various “contemporized” versions of Shakespeare’s works recently became box-office blockbusters, even though they are not to my taste. Like that version of Romeo and Juliet that starred Leonardo DiCaprio and Clare Danes – what will Hollywood think up next, a contemporary Othello based on Congolese Warlord Laurent N’Kunda? Most “hard-core Shakespeareans” always have reservations on this concept even though they are a very good moneymaker and had helped spread the popularity of William Shakespeare’s literary works around the world. Given the upside of an “Anachronistic Shakespeare”, should we nonetheless embrace every effort to make that great English bard William Shakespeare and his works not only popular, but remain relevant in the 21st Century?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Did the Inquisition Hate William Shakespeare?

Given that his creative vision and philosophy could at times be at odds with the dogma endorsed by the Inquisition, did this Pan-European religious bureaucracy ever hated William Shakespeare?

By: Vanessa Uy

Current findings by notable Shakespearean scholars show that he could only have wrote some of his plays – especially Romeo and Juliet – if he had seen Venice first hand. But given that William Shakespeare had free access to these notable Italian cities, does this mean that our conjecture that the Inquisition and even the Holy Catholic Church is on to him and hates his works is dead in the water?

Though documents proving the disdain of both the Inquisition and the Holy Catholic Church on William Shakespeare and all that he stands for is about as common as hen’s teeth. There is still plenty – from our own post-September 11 early 21st Century perspective – of reasons on why The Vatican and the Inquisition has plenty to worry about this Renaissance era English bard. Barring the fact that both The Vatican and the Inquisitions have other greater concerns to tackle that pose a clear and present danger to their grip on power over much of Europe. Like that sodomite painter Michaelangelo Caravaggio, the Italian polymath Galileo flirting with the Copernican view of the universe, and even Queen Elizabeth I not wanting a return to Papist loyalty. Which does deserve the use of their secret Vatican / Papal Police apparatus.

The premise behind Romeo and Juliet and the story’s salient theme of “Romantic Love” could have easily tripped alarm bells and red flags of Europe’s most powerful arbiter of morality at the time – namely the Holy Catholic Church. Especially when viewed through the eyes of prevailing societal morays of the supposedly enlightened ways of Renaissance-era Italy. But still, no documents exist on whether The Vatican and the Inquisition ever scrutinized the works of William Shakespeare that made him a candidate to be burned alive at the steak like Giordano Bruno.

But if history were used as a guide, maybe our creative world-weary English bard simply got lucky. Maybe William Shakespeare was lucky enough to fall under the protection of Queen Elizabeth I ’s “Golden Age” which got him insulated against the reach of both the Inquisition and The Vatican. That’s why we in the 21st Century still love Shakespeare for the characters that he created and their philosophy that is deemed way too radical for Renaissance era Catholic Church. That’s why William Shakespeare and his works never seem to become out of date. Even in the fictitious 23rd Century world of Star Trek, the brilliant works of Shakespeare still provide recreation to Captain Jean-Luc Piccard on the Starship Enterprise.