Sunday, August 23, 2015

American English

Today's Futility Closet quotes an Americanized Hamlet by writer Albert Edward Wilson, guessing that "it might be from the 1930s". I decided to have a look...

In the 1 Sep 1945 Adelaide (Australia) The Mail is a piece — apparently from a reader — titled Uncle Samlet:

   So Hollywood is to film "Hamlet" up to date with Cary Grant playing the Gloomy Dane as a modern man, and speaking to a 1945 script (writes "Jacques").
   Some years ago Sir Barry Jackson produced a Hamlet, who wore plus-fours, and smoked cigars, but Shakespeare's script wasn't altered. Sir Herbert Tree gave the Prince of Denmark a beard, a score of women (including Bernhardt) played the part, but this screen version will strike a new note. Can you imagine the "To be, or not to be" soliloquy in modern American? Something like this, maybe:—

"To quit or not to quit: that's what I'm up against.
Ought I to stick the darn thing out,
Let old man Fortune make a monkey out of me,
Or take a crack against this gang of twerps
And swipe the lot of them..."
   And so on.

Very similar to the start of the A.E. Wilson version so one might suspect that it was taken from him. By the way, the Cary Grant (Hitchcock) version of Hamlet was not to be. I wonder how the soliloquy was handled in Irving Fiske's (1941) Hamlet in Modern English? At any rate, the very idea of an Americanized Hamlet occurs much earlier. Here's a 1917 version in the Richmond Guardian:

   An authority estimates that in about 20 years the American language will be unintelligible to English ears. Then we shall, doubtless, hear the latest American representative of Hamlet delivering the famous speech something like this:—

To quit or not to quit — that's what I'm up against
Is it the cheese to sit still in the game,
And take whatever's coming to you yet,
Or to put up a rough-house 'gainst a bunch of troubles
Till they are down and out?
Who'd stand for all the hardest kind of luck,
The frozen face, the main guy's jollying,
The fly cop's club, the handling of a lemon
When any old time he can chase himself
Into the boneyard?

Say what?

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