The Lazy Man's Guide to Shakespeare
April 20, 2006 5:43 PM   Subscribe

How can I convert a modern English speech into Shakespearean English, quickly and easily?

My college yearbook staff is dedicating this year's yearbook to our campus expert on all things Shakespearean. The presentation wiill be complete with trumpeters, squires pages, and a "king" bringing her on stage to present the book. We'd like to have his comments in a very florid, over-the-top faux Shakespearean style. Is there any resource that will allow me to enter our modern English comments and get Shakespearean English at the other end? Is that too much to expect? Any other ideas besides my lazy one that might work? Any suggestions will be appreciated.
posted by unclejeffy to Writing & Language (14 answers total)
I think Shakespeare would turn over in his grave if you used a computer program to try to synthesize Elizabethan english. This is something that screams out for the hand-crafted approach, for its own sake and as a tribute to this expert's life work.

There has to be more than one english student at your college with a love for the language who would be keen to spend ungodly amounts of time to do this.

So no, I'm not aware of any program that does this translation at all, but given the current level of translation technology (functional but hardly perfect) I can't see the results being up to reproducing the poetry and flow so important to Elizabethan english.
posted by cardboard at 6:11 PM on April 20, 2006

This might give you a start.
posted by tellurian at 6:13 PM on April 20, 2006

It depends on what you're going for. Shakespeare didn't write in "old" English, so using a translation thingie like tellurian suggests might not be appropriate unless you're going for a self-consciously campy presentation.

I second cardboard's recommendation that you find an English major on campus and ask him to work up a speech for your faux king (although, honestly, kings don't really do that well in Shakespeare as a rule. You might be better off having a young-lover-type figure present it to her, as a token of devotion, or something like that).

I might suggest finding a speech within Shakespeare's body of work and modifying it (be gentle, please!) to fit into the context of the presentation. He wrote a really vast number of plays, and then there are the sonnets to consider as well, so I'm fairly confident that your gun-for-hire English major will be able to find something appropriate.
posted by mmcg at 6:37 PM on April 20, 2006

Even if you want to be purposely over-the-top, I think most automated translators are going to give you unfortunate results.

The speech is shortish, right? Can you let us have a whack at it? I think a lot of experts you might approach on campus will be all, "But it has to be accurate!" and won't get that you want it to be overexaggerated and unrealistic.

If you do decide to go for something realistic, it would be better to have a student (your expert's favorite TA or something?) come up with something new than it would be to try rewriting Shakespeare. I have never seen that go well.
posted by booksandlibretti at 6:43 PM on April 20, 2006

Here's a fun little bit from The Taming of the Shrew. It's Petruchio trying to impress Kate/Katherine/Katrina (no chance your expert is named Kate, is there? Would be a nice coincide.) Anyway, it's kind of playful, basically a soliloquy, and you could work the exchange into sort of easily, I think.

Pet. [ . . .] I'll attend her here
and woo her with some spirit when she comes.
Say that she rail, why then I'll tell her plain
She sings as sweetly as a nightingale.
Say that she frown, I'll say she looks as clear
As morning roses newly washed with dew.
Say she be mute, and will not speak a word,
Then I'll commend her volubility
And say she uttereth piercing eloquence.
If she do bid me pack, I'll give her thanks
As though she bid me stay by her a week.
If she deny to wed, I'll crave the day
When I shall ask the banns and when be married.

[Kate enters, maybe paraphrase with Petruchio realzing
she's been standing in front of him the whole time.]

Pet. But here she [is now], Petruchio, speak.
[ . . . ]
Good morrow, Kate, for that's your name, I hear.
You are called plain Kate,
And bonny Kate, and sometimes Kate the curst.
But, Kate, the prettiest Kate in Christendom,
Kate of Kate Hall, my super-dainty Kate,
For dainties are all Kates, and therefore, Kate,
Take this of me, Kate of my consolation.

[He's saying she should take the compliment , but no
reason you couldn't do the actual exchange here.]

Hearing thy mildness praised in every town,
Thy virtues spoke of, and thy beauty sounded --
Yet no so deeply as to the belongs --
Myself am moved to woo thee for my wife.

[2.1.168-180, 185-190, with apologies for abridging the text in a couple of places]

That'd work great, so long as your actor doesn't mind hitting on what I assume is a senior faculty member.
posted by mmcg at 6:54 PM on April 20, 2006

If you want Shakespeare, then go to the library and check out the Norton Shakespeare and go to town. If you want untranslated written prose - get The Norton Facsimile: The First Folio of Shakespeare. It's the effort that counts...right?
posted by mrmojoflying at 6:57 PM on April 20, 2006

I must agree with other posters here,
That poor old Will is spinning in his grave.
Still, if you must persist in mimicry,
Blank verse will almost write itself for you.
You only need to get the rhythm going:
tah-TAH, tah-TAH, tah-TAH, tah-TAH, tah-TAH...
Just translate all your prose into such beats.
Make sure the second syllable is stressed.
And don't be 'fraid to break the rules a little.
The Bard himself was known to stray from form.

Once you've crafted an iambic draft,
Find yourself an out-of-print thesaurus
(on a site like,
And look up synonyms for all your words.
Archaic ones will help your prose ring true.
Rework your draft with old words for the new,
And, if needed, patch up broken scans.

These tips won't get you true Shakespearean verse,
But for Bard-esque parody you could do worse.
posted by grumblebee at 7:40 PM on April 20, 2006

Seconding that Kings aren't so favored for a Shakespearean feel. An imaginary Earl or the like should be the one to present. Especially as it was Queen Elizabeth who was on the throne for much of Shakespeare's writing career.
posted by desuetude at 7:53 PM on April 20, 2006

Grumblebee, you rock.

Just want to point out how very very important it is to make the line scan , for the comfort of your listening audience. Simply put, re-word to fit all words in the tah-TAH, tah-TAH, tah-TAH, tah-TAH, tah-TAH...rhythm. No sneaking in extra sylables, and if the pronounciation of the word is too tortured, re-arrange.
posted by desuetude at 8:02 PM on April 20, 2006

I must point out (without knowing the specifics of the personalities involved), that most Shakespeare scholars have heard bad imitations of Shakespeare for years. Friends come up to them and say, "Hast thou seen any good plays lately?"

To someone who lives and breathes Shakespeare, this is equivalent to cutting Marmaduke comics out of a newspaper and giving them to a die-hard fan of graphic novels.
posted by grumblebee at 8:10 PM on April 20, 2006

one of the best things about shakespear is that he's really not florid & over the top...

yeah, go iambic pentameter and don't worry about a few feminine endings and the like.
remember "thou/thee/thy" is the non-formal or singular (like "tu", while ye/you/your = vous), not the more formal...
and I'm sure you can get some 'dost' or 'hadst' in there...
posted by mdn at 8:34 PM on April 20, 2006

I definitely think you should let AskMefi people help you with it. That sounds like fun.

Get the rhythm right, as people are saying, and it will sound Shakespearian right away, then go through again and substituting Elizabethan-sounding words for modern ones and that'll just about do it.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 9:23 PM on April 20, 2006

Seconding the idea of letting the AskMe collective have a bash at it. Would there be any way of setting up a wiki for the purpose?

Also, flagged grumblebee's answer as fantastic!
posted by greycap at 11:30 PM on April 20, 2006

Thanks for all the great input here. I knew I could count on you!

I should have been more clear at the beginning. This is meant to be very, VERY campy. Doesn't at all need to be authentically Shakespearean. In fact, it could any mix at all that is funny.

Another thing to know is that, for our purposes, it has to be a king delivering the message.

I appreciate the offer for help. I'll see if i can get something posted soon that you can have a crack at. I'm anxious to see what you might come up with. Thanks again for your responses.
posted by unclejeffy at 5:17 AM on April 21, 2006

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