Are we too dumb for Shakespeare?

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is translating William Shakespeare into English. If that seems strange, it should, because Shakespeare wrote his plays in English. All 39 of the bard’s works have been assigned a playwright and a dramaturge, who will alter its text to create a present-day, modern English version they hope will be more accessible to modern audiences.

That’s not all that lies behind this dubious effort. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF), in keeping with the spirit of modern theater, ensured that 50 percent of the artists involved are women and that 50 percent are people of color. I suppose one should be grateful they’re not simply dumping Shakespeare from the canon, as some have suggested. But that gratitude is mitigated by this odd desire to diversify the words of a playwright.

It’s unclear what OSF hopes to gain from these translations. They promise to keep producing the originals, as well, but see these new works as a kind of CliffsNotes for his work. But there are already CliffsNotes for Shakespeare’s plays. These new versions seem geared towards audiences who will not, or cannot understand the plays.