American Theatre

Dr. Shakespeare, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Play On

By Daniel Pollack-Pelzner | May 24, 2019

When Lue Douthit, longtime literary director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, told me that she had hired 36 playwrights to translate Shakespeare’s scripts into contemporary English, I didn’t get it. We were chatting at a gathering of dramaturgs in Portland in Fall 2015, a few weeks before the Play on! translation project was to be announced. Douthit laid out its parameters: Do no harm. Keep the verse, the rhyme, the heightened language, the metaphors, the imagery. Don’t cut anything. Don’t change the period or setting. Don’t fix the plays’ trouble spots. If the language works, don’t mess with it. Don’t dumb it down. Only adjust what’s necessary to let a 21st-century audience experience the plays with the emotional immediacy that a 16th-century audience would have enjoyed.