The Year of Lear

You might have seen Shakespeare in the news recently. Over 400 years ago, the Bard published three of his most famous tragedies (King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra). Shakespeare's prolific year is the subject of a new book by James Shapiro ’77CC, The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606.

The Columbia University Club of New York and the Columbia Alumni Association (CAA) are hosted a special conversation with Shapiro about his new book in November 2015. To listen to an excerpt from his lecture, check out the podcast.

The book received a slew of praise from various publications, including The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The Sunday Times.

Columbia News also posed five burning Shakespearean questions to Shapiro that you can check out here.

Amidst this publication news, there has been a flurry of Shakespearean controversy and Shapiro has been at the forefront of the debate.

The debate surrounds a recent announcement by The Oregon Shakespeare Festival¬†that there are plans to¬†translate Shakespeare's work¬†into modern English. The project, "Play On! 36 Playwrights Translate Shakespeare,‚ÄĚ is slated to take three years to complete. As the name suggests, it will pair 36 playwrights with 36¬†dramaturgs¬†to translate all of plays attributed to Shakespeare.

According to the Festival's website, "The goal is not to reinvent the plays, or make changes for their own sake... We have asked the writers to limit their efforts to updating the more antiquated language in the plays... [O]ur focus is squarely on translating this antiquated language to increase understanding, while maintaining the vibrancy of the original."

Shapiro, the Larry Miller Professor of English and Comparative Literature, offered his response to the announcement in a popular opinion piece for The New York Times. In it, he argued that

However well intended, this experiment is likely to be a waste of money and talent, for it misdiagnoses the reason that Shakespeare’s plays can be hard for playgoers to follow.

Shapiro goes on to explain that it is when directors and actors misinterpret Shakespeare's words that audiences may find it difficult to follow the narrative. After reading a "prototype translation," he assessed it as being "a hodgepodge, neither Elizabethan nor contemporary, and makes for dismal reading." He later elaborated upon these thoughts on WNYC, where he was interviewed alongside Tony nominated Shakespearean director, Phyllida Lloyd.