Romeo and Juliet: A Verse Translation
Can Shakespeare’s language be made more comprehensible without compromising the literary qualities of his works? Kent Richmond thinks so, and his third entry into the Enjoy Shakespeare series provides strong evidence that Shakespeare’s greatness does not need to hide behind 400-year-old language.
By maintaining the line and verse structure of Romeo and Juliet, Richmond has given us a play that is every bit as complex as the original. The play looks and feels like Shakespeare with a vocabulary as rich as the original. The sentence structures match the original's complexity. All rhymes, songs, and poetic devices are maintained and reworked into more modern language. You will forget that you are reading a translation. [read an excerpt]
Number of Unique Words
Shakespeare's original: 3,655
Richmond's translation: 3,775
Experience this tale of star-crossed lovers with the comprehension and delight of theatergoers 400 years ago—the way Shakespeare intended.
This excerpt from Act Three shows the care the Enjoy Shakespeare translations take to reproduce Shakespeare's verse. The opening 36 lines of this scene are an aubade (pronounced "oh BAD" or "oh BAWD"), a minor verse form from the Middle Ages where lovers discuss parting at dawn.
Scene Five. Juliet’s Balcony, Above a Garden
You wish to go? It still is not near day.
It was the nightingale, and not the lark,
That pierced the fretful hollow of your ear.
Read another excerpt
That pomegranate tree’s her nightly perch.
Believe me, love, it was the nightingale.
It was the lark, the herald of the morn,
No nightingale. Look, love, malicious streaks,
They lace the clouds dispersing in the east.
Night’s candles are burnt out, and jovial day
Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.
I must be gone and live, or stay and die.
That light is not daylight, I know it’s so.
It is some meteor the sun exhaled
To be for you tonight a torch-bearer
And lead you on your way to Mantua.
Stay longer then, you do not need to go.
Let me be seized, let me be put to death.
I am content, if you wish it to be.
I’ll say that gray is not the morning’s eye,
It’s just the pale reflection of the moon.
And that’s no lark whose notes reverb against
The arching sky so high above our heads.
The wish to stay exceeds the will to go.
Come, death, and welcome! Juliet wants it so.
How is my sweet? Let’s talk. It is not day.
It is, it is! Be quick, now go away!
It is the lark that sings so out of tune,
Discordant strains and jarring notes too sharp.
Some say the lark can intermingle tunes.
This one does not, for she’s not mingling us.
Some say the lark and loathsome toad swap eyes.
I wish that they’d exchange their voices too,
For arm from arm we’re scattered by the day.
“The Hunt is On”, it calls, and you’re away.
O, now be gone. More light and light it grows.
More light and light—then darker are our woes!
Excerpt from Act 4, Scene 3
Juliet's thoughts before she drinks a liquid that will make her appear to have died.
Farewell!—God knows when we will meet again.
A cold and dizzy fear thrills through my veins
And almost freezes up the heat of life.
I’ll call them back again to comfort me.
Nurse!—What could she do here?
This ghastly scene I need to act alone.
[takes out the vial]
What if this potion does not work at all?
Will I be married, then, tomorrow morning?
No, No! This will prevent it.
[She takes out a dagger and lays it beside her]
—Stay right there.
Read another excerpt
What if this is a poison, which the friar
Has cunningly dispensed to make me die,
To keep this marriage from disgracing him,
Because he married me before to Romeo?
I fear it is, and yet I sense it’s not,
For he has always proved a holy man.
What if, when I am placed into the tomb,
I wake before the time that Romeo
Comes to redeem me? That’s a fearful thought!
And won’t I lie there gasping in the vault,
Whose foul mouth never breathes in wholesome air,
And suffocate before my Romeo comes?
Or, if I live, is it not likely that
This horrible display of death and night,
Together with the terror of the place,
There in a vault, an ancient storage site,
Where, for so many centuries, the bones
Of all my buried ancestors are packed;
Where bloody Tybalt, freshly green in death,
Lies festering in his shroud; where, as they say,
At some late hour at night the spirits meet—
O lord, o lord, is it not likely that,
I’ll wake too soon—among the loathsome smells
And shrieks of roots torn from the earth above
That make the mortals hearing them run mad—
O, if I wake, won’t I become distraught,
Encircled there with all these hideous fears,
Insanely play with my forefathers’ teeth,
And pluck the mangled Tybalt from his shroud,
And, in a frenzy, with some kinsman’s bone,
To be my club, dash out my desperate brains?
O, look! I think I see my cousin’s ghost
Seeking out Romeo, who impaled his body
Upon a rapier’s point. Stop, Tybalt, stop!
Romeo, I’m coming. This I drink to you.
[JULIET drinks and falls upon her bed behind curtains]
"Too often, unless we read a Shakespeare play beforehand, we process the language as if it were coming from a poorly tuned-in radio station. Shakespeare didn’t write his plays to be experienced impressionistically as ‘poetry;’ he assumed his language was readily comprehensible. At what point does a stage of a language become so different from the modern one as to make translation necessary? Mr. Richmond is brave enough to assert that, for Shakespeare, that time has come. The French have Moliere, the Russians have Chekhov—and now, we can truly say that we have our Shakespeare.”
—John McWhorter, Manhattan Institute
Romeo and the Apothecary