This last week, we covered Poetry in my English 102 course. I think that my favorite aspect of our reading was being able to compare William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18, to the Modified Sonnet by Howard Moss, Shall I compare Thee to a Summer’s Day? I didn’t think comparing these two poems, and their opposition would get me as worked up as they did, but the last question for these two readings, in which we were asked to answer someone who says Moss didn’t destroy the meaning of Sonnet 18 when he modernized it, absolutely frazzled me.
I can understand why the adaptation exists, its wonderful to be inspired by a piece of work and wish to recreate it artistically. To say that it implies the same thing though is absurd in my opinion, its Shakespeare after all. I try to stay textbook when we answer the questions for our reading, but this one had me excusing myself before I got personal. I know this isn’t usually how I choose to respond about our writing, but as opposed to trying to rewrite my opinion, I have decided to include the answer I had previously written for our assignment below…
Chapter 14: Figures of Speech, Backpack Literature. Page 449, Question #4: “How would you answer someone who argued, “Maybe Moss’s language isn’t as good as Shakespeare’s, but the meaning is still there. What’s wrong with putting Shakespeare into up-to-date words that can be understood by everybody?”
My answer: The problem with putting Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 in up to date terms that are easier for everyone to understand without much digestion on their meaning, is its own problem. It is a problem in it self, that the desire to understand a sonnet by Shakespeare, should need to be edited until it finds itself blunt and dull. Shakespeare’s allure, magic, and success is found in its poetic, figurative language, that sets a standard in literature. Now, Moss’s rendition allows for an entertaining view point on the sonnet in the form of less serious prose, which isn’t something in itself to scoff at, as art has next to no boundary, but to say Moss triumphs due to ease of read over Shakespeare is a far cry from reality. If I may speak candidly, I am shocked at how upsetting that question was, and fear for the day I have an actual conversation with someone about a topic similar to this question. Is this the downfall of an English major? Or the downfall of not being an English Major? I think THAT is the real question.
So, I understand how completely literature or art snob that seems, and your not wrong, but this isn’t all there is to it. Growing up, Shakespeare was introduced to me through high school for writing assignments, and school plays were predictably going to be A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I was familiar with Shakespeare’s work, even cartoons in the 90’s referenced him, but here’s the truth, I’ve never gone out of my way to read his work outside of mandatory assignments. More still, is what this assignment has sparked in me, an understanding if you will. That it was fathomable to compare Shakespeare to such a dry adaptation pierced me with an appreciation I didn’t know I was lacking, and for the first time while scanning book spines at the thrift store, two of Shakespeare’s works jumped out at me. How underappreciated I felt those books were. So I made it my task to get them, read them, understand and appreciate these works that are otherwise mocked in media as well known quotes in kids cartoons, and adaptations alike. While imitation is supposed to be the sincerest form of flattery, it should be that and nothing more.