READER CHALLENGE: Spanish Shakespeare?

So, Moi and I were on the subject of crazy, messed up English today and our apparent complete hatred for following our own spelling and pronunciation rules. This is especially bad for her, because coming from a Spanish speaking background, she gets lost sometimes. But it’s totally adorable so who cares?

Anyway, it reminded me of an interesting argument I had heard, which went like this: English is a less attractive (in the sleek, efficient way an iPod is attractive) than other languages but is more descriptive because of the numerous linguistic traditions which have fed into it. Because English contains many duplicate words for one thing, these words have finer gradients of meaning then equivalents in other languages. take, for example, the difference between stupid and ignorant. Both mean that you lack knowledge, but ignorant adds that you are not at fault, because you never had a chance to learn, while stupid implies that you merely never wanted to learn.

In particular, the person I heard say this claimed that Shakespeare could never have existed in any language but English. Granted, this assumes that Shakespeare did the best job of crafting important literary archetypes in all of history. But I am curious what people think. Could Romeo and Juliet have been written in Spanish? Would a Rose’s smell be as poignant a metaphor in any language but English?

Feel free to weigh in, but please, behave! Polite debate.


4 Responses to “READER CHALLENGE: Spanish Shakespeare?”

  1. No One Says:

    I think there are two problems with your question. First, I think art and the creation of art are separate from the media used to communicate that art. Picasso if he had never been able to use color would still have made wonderful paintings. Shakespeare writing in another language whether it be Spanish, or German or Chinese would still have written Romeo and Juliette and it still would be great art.
    Secondly, I your question is ethnocentric in that part of the reason we know and love Shakespeare in the first place, is because it is written in English and we obviously understand and are exposed to his writing is because we speak English. I have no doubt there are incredible stories in French, Spanish, and other languages that we will never know because we can’t read them and they are not part of our school curriculum.
    Great works of art whether written, painted, sculpted, or played will be great not because of the media that they are created in, but because of the beauty in which they were created.

  2. Zack Says:

    I think you raise some good points, No One. Definitely your point about ethnocentricity. I don’t know if it is fair to claim that Shakespeare did the best job of writing those stories that could be or has been done. Certainly, my interest in it is more from the standpoint in the first paragraph, of whether a language having multiple linguistic histories lends it finer layers of meaning. I’m not really any more qualified to answer that then I am to compare Shakespeare to the world either.
    As for your comment, to the effect that art is not the medium but the message or the meaning, is possibly more nuanced then you give it credit. I know many artists are quite attached to a certain medium (I am as well), but whether this is a matter of habit or a matter of artistic expression or creativity is debatable as well.

  3. Moi Says:

    Two things. One, I am not adorable. I am depressed and cranky because I sound less intelligent than I am in person.

    Two, other languages also have stupid and ignorant, those two words are very different. But English, unlike Spanish, does have differences between things like clear and bright, and bright and illuminated, and on top of that has multiple usages for words.

    Three, and yes, I know I said two things, deal with it. I think that medium is just as important as message. With literature, as with artwork, medium makes a difference in the portrayal of the message and in beauty. For example, in a kitchen (bear with me, I’m doing architecture, and therefore my art is houses), linoleum and ceramic tiles can have the same pattern, but the difference in medium will change the message that the pattern says. Linoleum meant to look like tile tends to say wannabe classy but cheaper while a nice tile, even if it isn’t terribly expensive, can make the room say “classy”. So, depending on the location, either one can work (you don’t want expensive tile around three year olds with finger paint), the message it sends to visitors is different.

  4. No One Says:

    I didn’t mean to suggest that the medium was not important. My point was that if Shakespeare would have written in Spanish or French or whatever language he chose or was chosen for him, the stories still would have been the same pieces of work they are in English. And if students in the US spoke Spanish we would be studying the same stories in Spanish and saying the same things about them that we do about English writers today.
    As for the architecture analogy, no matter what material your future clients ask you to design in you will create art, because the art comes from you not from the material.

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