John McWhorter sure thinks so, as he argues in “The Real Shakespearean Tragedy,” which would be, The Bard is awesome but only three people in the world can understand what the heck he’s saying. As a linguist McWhorter knows something about language and I think he makes an airtight case.
Ever since I was in high school way back when, I knew Shakespeare was something I should like and appreciate, but I could never get past your basic 16th Century English. I tried many times, but it just wasn’t worth it. I thought I must be some kind of dolt, but I never shared that with anybody lest I confirm my lack of ability to appreciate the greatest playwright ever. Now somebody with the stature and intellectual heft of John McWhorter comes along and says what most everyone who has ever tried to read Shakespeare or been to a play already knows: it’s indecipherable.
There is a link in the piece about something I had not been aware of called the Shakespeare Translation Project. I think I might actually now be able to read and understand what’s been inaccessible to me and most every other English speaking person in the world. Here is McWhorter’s conclusion:
The glory of Shakespeare’s original language is manifest. We must preserve it for posterity. However, we must not err in equating the preservation of the language with the preservation of the art. Perhaps such an equation would be the ideal—Shakespeare through the ages in his exact words. In a universe where language never changed, such an equation would be unobjectionable. In the world we live in, however, this equation is allowing blind faith to deprive the public of a monumental treasure.
We must reject the polite relationship the English-speaking public now has with Shakespeare in favor of more intimate, charged one which both the public and the plays deserve. To ask a population to rise to the challenge of taking literature to heart in a language they do not speak is as unreasonable as it is futile. The challenge we must rise to is to shed our fear of language change and give Shakespeare his due—restoration to the English-speaking world.