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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the logistics?

39 plays attributed to Shakespeare. (including Two Noble Kinsman and Edward III).

36 playwrights. (one playwright took on all three Henry VI’s). The majority of the commissions were awarded to women and BIPOC playwrights.

3 years (the last draft was submitted December 31, 2018).

Each writer was paired with a dramaturg, so they had the opportunity for extensive dialogue about their choices and about the text’s meaning.

Each play had a reading and a workshop with a director and actors to provide further insight into the work before the final draft is submitted. Readings and workshops of these translations were produced all over the country.

Are we looking to replace Shakespeare’s original plays?

Absolutely not. We view these translated texts as complementary, as companion pieces for Shakespeare’s original texts, not as replacements. Even when the translations get performed on their own, we expect and hope that they will inspire audience members to return to Shakespeare’s original texts, ideally with much greater understanding and enjoyment.

Are we reducing Shakespeare?

We are actually aiming to do the opposite: to celebrate Shakespeare’s masterworks by learning as much as we can about them and allowing our audiences to understand more of the language while watching the play.

Just for clarity, these translations won’t simplify the originals. We are also not asking writers to “fix” the plays, or add their politics. Play On asks writers to take all the accepted given circumstances—character, story, action, etc.—and examine Shakespeare’s language line by line, applying the same kind of rigor and pressure that he did to his language. The original plays differ enough linguistically from one another that there is no option for cookie-cutter rules; but every playwright will have to keep in mind the meter, rhyme, rhythm, metaphor, rhetoric, and theme of the original.

It is also worth noting that most theaters already make textual choices when they produce Shakespeare; for instance, productions often reconcile quarto and folio manuscripts, trim lengthy plays or rearrange tricky ones, and replace words that have become antiquated past comprehension. In fact, we believe that every age, while hewing close to Shakespeare’s original texts on one path, creates a parallel path of experimentation, exploration, and changing the language. Intrigued by this latter avenue, we want to support the great playwrights of our generation in transforming Shakespeare’s texts through their artistry into the language of our time.

Are we saying “To be or not to be” is not good enough as written?

The writers were empowered to leave any text alone if they wanted to, and they often did. The goal was not to reinvent the plays, or make changes for their own sake. It was interesting to see what each playwright did with Shakespeare’s best-known passages; we engaged in deep dialogue with them about all their choices, while leaving the final artistic decision to them.

Does this mean we’ll suddenly be hearing references to “Facebook” and characters using contemporary slang in these classic works?

Absolutely not. The Play On translations are not adaptations. Everything to do with setting, time period, references etc. remains unchanged. As such, pop-culture references and contemporary slang are not appropriate, and the politics of the original plays were not be cut or “fixed” in any way.

We asked the writers to limit their efforts to updating the more antiquated language in the plays. Shakespeare’s works are all written in modern English; it’s just that in the last 400 years, many of the words, phrases and references have fallen out of use. So our focus was squarely on translating this antiquated language to increase understanding, while maintaining the vibrancy of the original.

How does Play On advance outreach?

It is our hope that Play On will reach Shakespeare aficionados, providing them another way into beloved texts and new appreciation of this master writer. We also hope to help make Shakespeare more accessible and inclusive, especially to audiences who have little to no experience with early modern English. We are excited about the opportunity to provide a new avenue for a wide variety of audience members to engage with these profound stories.

I’m interested in producing a Play On translation. Who do I reach out to?

Every Play on! translation belongs to the author who created it. If you are interested in producing the translation or utilizing the translation as a resource, feel free to email info@playonshakespeare.org and we can steer you in the right direction!