Early Shakespearean Theater Discovered Behind East London Pub
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  • “Moving past the King James was a good thing for the religious development of the English speaking world; the growing distance between contemporary speech and the venerable rhythms of that excellent work threatened to render Scripture inaccessible to people without special training.”

    I can’t agree with that.

  • John

    Bad link?

  • Charming Billy

    I was born in 1963. The Episcopal Church adopted the 1979 BCP when I was 16. Rite II didn’t see much use in my parish till a few years later. That makes me the last generation to grow up being forced to listen to, er I mean thrilling to Cranmer’s deathless prose. I wish my children could grow up with the old 1928 BCP. It certainly deepened my understanding of English.

  • Emerson

    That first sentence ended kinda abruptly.

  • Andrew Allison

    Re: “Moving past the King James was a good thing for the religious development of the English speaking world; the growing distance between contemporary speech and the venerable rhythms of that excellent work threatened to render Scripture inaccessible to people without special training.”

    Having, like WRM, grown up with the King James version I beg to differ. I’d suggest that abandoning it is one of the primary reasons for the cataclysmic decline in Anglicism in it’s native land. Surely the the good professor is aware that, before widespread literacy, rhymes were the way of transmitting knowledge.

    Could it not be that Shakespeare is becoming harder for the young to understand because they’re getting such a superficial education?

  • Brendan Doran

    “…the cataclysmic decline in Anglicism in it’s native land.”

    The Catholic Church made one of it’s worst mistakes when it took away the Latin Mass…Tridentine masses have some of the higher attendances. In fact ritual is so missed some Roman Catholics attend Greek Orthodox Masses. Permitted.

  • Gary L

    More, the constructions, the literary sensibility and the vocabulary of the King James Bible prepared us for Shakespeare even as our familiarity with that text made Shakespeare’s English sound more ‘normal.’

    Rudyard Kipling’s short story “Proofs of Holy Writ” depicts Shakespeare and Ben Jonson talking theater shop on a lazy afternoon, when they are interrupted by an urgent messenger from the KJV committee. Unbeknowst to Ben, Will has been serving as their consultant, and they need the Bard to properly render some verses from Isaiah Chapter 60.


    The story serves as both a tribute to the mechanics of the creative process itself, as well as an a warm portayal of masculine camaraderie.

  • Mrs. Davis

    Thou art correct. Language lasts at most 400 years. How well could Shakespeare’s contemporaries read Beowulf? Within 100 years, the Federalist Papers will be unintelligible. The interesting question is how soon the Constitution will be considered the “modern” equivalent of law French. And then there’s the question of how long literacy will be necessary once Siri is perfected.

    It will be a brave, new world. Being old ain’t all bad after all.

    Abandonment of the KJV was a symptom, not a cause. The end of sentence diagramming? That was the source of all evil.

  • Mrs. Davis

    Bad link to ‘uncovered the remains.”

  • thibaud

    Not sure this makes sense. Language isn’t the barrier; incompetent teaching is.

    Re. the language, “thee” and “thou” aren’t difficult, even for a child, to understand as equivalents of “you.” When pronounced correctly, “dost” sounds exactly like “does”, just with a hard consonant cluster added at the end of the word; ditto for other 2nd-person singular verbs ending in “t”.

    There’s a fascinating project in the Missouri prison system to get hardcore convicts to perform Shakespeare, and the results are in some cases amazing. Grade-school dropouts unearthed insights into the characters and described emotional responses to Hamlet that blow away anything you’ll hear from most professors or teachers of Shakespeare. As the director says on a series of episodes of NPR’s “This American Life”, these performers “weren’t stupid; they were _uneducated_.”

    Granted, these criminals aren’t young people, but the emotions of any adolescent are as turbulent as theirs are, and a skilled teacher can get the kids to connect to Shakespeare, provided that they actually _speak_ the lines and _act out_ the roles.

    Here’s one of the NPR episodes about Shakespeare Behind Bars:


    More here: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/218/act-v

  • thibaud

    You don’t need to read the King James Bible or even be a Christian to get Hamlet or Othello or Romeo & Juliet.

    Shakespeare’s appeal is universal; his works are performed around the world, in cultures that have no interest in or knowledge of Christianity or the Elizabethan world-view or the Great Chain of Being etc

  • WigWag

    It is interesting to compare the KJB with the works of Shakespeare: as great as both are, the several writers and editors of the KJB are inferior to Shakespeare. For one, Shakespeare had the superior vocabulary; his collected works include 21 thousand separate words,18 hundred of which he coined. The KJB keeps to only about 8 thousand individual words.

    The great character of the Old Testament is Yahweh, portrayed mostly as a lunatic, dangerous to himself and everyone else he comes in contact with or to whom he communicates. Yahweh reminds me of Lear, Iago, Hamlet and Falstaff although ultimately he is less convincing of a character than they are because he lacks any self awareness at all.

    The two principle characters in the New Testament, God the Father and his eager Son lack any depth at all; try as it might; the KJB just can’t make either of them a compelling character although several of the non-divine characters are mildly interesting. It took Milton to make the attempt to spruce up the Heavenly duo (trio?) but even he failed. It is widely acknowledged that God of “Paradise Lost,” very much like the God of the “Old Testament is intolerably obnoxious if not downright sadistic. The kindest thing that can be said about the way Milton presents the Son is that he turns him into a snit. Of the major characters in “Paradise Lost” only Milton’s Satan is either interesting or sympathetic although Milton’s Eve is also quite interesting in an erotic sort of way.

    Unless I am mistaken, both Shakespeare and Milton relied on the Tyndale Bible.

  • The decline of the King James Bible may have something to do with it, but overall I think one gets comfortable with Shakespeare by reading Shakespeare. My Unitarian upbringing was rather short on the KJV, but I adjusted to Shakespeare well enough when he was thrust upon us in middle school. (As for the Bible, I generally go with the Hebrew these days, but I digress.)

    Actually, getting rid of the Biblical “thee” and “thou” might ease up some confusion around the original sense of the familiar pronoun. Upon hearing the Divinity addressed as “Thou”, it’s likely that quite a lot of people got the idea that “thou” is an honorific form, when of course the opposite is true.

    In any case, I find it slightly comforting that English education seems to be taking a turn in the “old-school” direction –

  • Jim.

    With a title like that, I sort of expected the byline to be Prof. Peter Schickele.

    He isn’t interning for Via Meadia nowadays, is he? That would explain some of the recent posts strategizing about routes that EU federalism ought to take.

  • bob sykes

    It is true that some (a very small some) of the KJV uses obsolete and confusing language, but not all modern translations are preferable. A number of modern translations, especially those done in the last 50 years, deliberately mistranslate the Old and New Testaments to validate preconceived political and sociological positions.

    The best of the modern translations is the Revised Standard Version (but NOT the NRSV!), which is accepted by all the Christian churches, Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox.

    And yes, Yahweh is problematic, even scary. That, of course, is the point. “The beginning of wisdom lies in the fear of the Lord.”

    But, Yahweh of the Old Testament is not the God worshipped by Christians and Jews. They worship the godhead of the Greek philosophers, which is understandable as the Greeks dominated Palestine for hundreds of hears. Allah of the Muslims seems closer to Yahweh than the God of the churches and synagogs.

    The sweet, gentle, loving Jesus worshipped by many Christians is likewise not found in the New Testament. He will, after all, judge the living and the dead, and condemn some of them to Hell.

  • Eurydice

    Maybe, maybe not. The KJV isn’t my bible and English isn’t my first language, but I had no problem studying and understanding Shakespeare (as much as any non-scholar can understand him). Perhaps the study of other languages can bring patience and flexibility of mind to the process?

    To me, what’s most important is that Shakespeare is literature that’s meant to be performed. Even without the issue of language, a play that isn’t performed is just dead words on a page (ok, maybe the words are just sleeping). Shakespeare contains every bit of high drama, low comedy and blood-thirsty violence that audiences demand today and performance (even in the classroom) will bring that out and make his work accessible.

    Your 8th-grade Orsino reminds me of my 9th-grade Beatrice – “Against my will I am sent to bid you come in to dinner.” My parents certainly got sick of hearing that and versions of it – “Against my will I am sent to mow the lawn.”

  • WigWag

    “The sweet, gentle, loving Jesus worshipped by many Christians is likewise not found in the New Testament. He will, after all, judge the living and the dead, and condemn some of them to Hell.” (bob sykes)

    And let’s not forget that he is the Lamb of God who created Hell. According to Milton he was also a great warrior who defeated Lucifer in the cosmic battle of Heaven. By the time gentle Jesus had finished with the rebel angels, they were laying chained to a lake of fire. As Milton has it, they were,

    “Hurld headlong flaming from th’ Etherial Skie With hideous ruine and combustion down to bottomless perdition, there to dwell in Adamantine Chains and penal Fire.”

    It seems that Milton had a somewhat less sanguine view of God and his Son than many contemporary Americans do.

  • Bart Hall (Kansas, USA)

    We in the Americas are something of a linguistic wildlife preserve. I speak three of the four major languages here with native or near-native fluency and each of them is an insight into the 18th century version of that language. My wife, who speaks Portuguese, says the same thing about it, and (in fact) when I hear Brazilian Portuguese at any distance it sounds to me just like the 18th-century French I learnt in Québec.

    Even though our American and Canadian English is a throwback to an earlier era we are already running afoul of changes in meaning. In the 18th Century “happiness” had a meaning approximately the same as the Greek ‘makarios’ (also ‘blessed’ as in the Beatitudes), so in 1776 “pursuit of happiness” had a meaning suggesting “pursuit of a right relationship with God.” as opposed to the terribly shallow use of the word today.

    Similarly, “regulated” meant “trained” or “skilled”. Consequently “a well regulated militia” meant that they expected most citizens to own a weapon and use it “regularly” to maintain their skill in case it was needed.

    It is only in the writings of the Founders, the Framers, and the early leaders that we can garner an effective understanding of “original intent” as we “restore the real meaning of words, to live in Truth”, to quote Vaclav Havel.

  • I don’t think Shakespeare is all that difficult to understand and appreciate once you have begun to actually read him. You get used to the language after a while just as you might get used to someone speaking an unfamiliar accent or dialect.

  • Shakespeare is not completely lost to school children. The 4th-8th graders of the school at which I am principal just put on As You Like It. It was abridged to about 60%, but not paraphrased or modernized at all. The young lady, a 6th grader, who played Rosalind had over 360 lines.

    The children thought it was the funniest play they have done. The language is challenging, but the jokes are sill hilarious and worth the work. This is their third year putting on a Shakespeare play.

    The key to keeping Shakespeare in schools, is to do Shakespeare in school.

    Trust that the children can rise to the art and they will.

  • You can see what Shakespeares first Theatre would have looked like in 1595 here : http://www.explorethetheatre.co.uk

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