Shakespeare Didn't Write in Old English, But If He Did...

Glossophile

New Member
Here's yet another tidbit that I originally posted on the Atheist Discussion Forum which I thought might be interesting for some people here too.

It seems rather common to label the language of the KJV and Shakespeare as "Old English." Sometimes, the speaker technically knows better, but the casual nomenclature works perfectly fine in context, especially if his/her audience is also aware of the terminological liberty being taken. In such cases, it may be better to transcribe "old English" with a lowercase 'o.' Other times, however, it reflects a genuine misunderstanding, perhaps of just how deep the linguistic history runs and how much the language has changed over the centuries.

I still remember a rather amusing story my Germanic philology professor told his class a few years ago. This teacher of mine was visiting a medieval or Renaissance fair and went up to a concession stand to order a beer. The person manning the kiosk, however, insisted, "Ah, thou must speak in Old English." The professor replied with something like, "Ġief mē ānne bēor." The man behind the counter just blinked at him and said, "What is that? German?"

Anyway, maybe it's just my sense of irony, but I couldn't help but think that one of the best ways to playfully drive this point home would be to take a brief passage of Early Modern English (i.e. Elizabethan/Shakespearean/KJV English) and translate/adapt it into real Old English. So I reached out to a voice-over artist who'd dubbed a movie trailer in Old English just for fun a few years ago, and he agreed to lend his talent to my idea. This video was the result!


NOTE: There is one typo towards the end, where it says "Þurh trega tida fæc..." The second word should be "tƿega" with a 'ƿ' instead of an 'r.'

OLD ENGLISH TEXT

Twēġen hūsscipas, bēġen ġelīċe ġemeodnisse,
In fæġerre Ferōnan, þǣr steallað ūre spell,
Fram ealdum andan breca‏þ tō nīwum ġestriċe,
Þǣr burgmanna blōd ‏burgmanna handa ġewemð.

Forð fram þām fǣġum lendenum þissa twēġa fēonda,
Twēġen wyrd-fēġde lufiende heora līf tacaþ,
Þāra heardsǣlga hīġþa, ‏þǣre fǣhþe wiþsēonda,
Heora cennendra sace mid dēaþe begrafaþ.

Se anforhta gang heora lufe, fordēmdre ġewife,
And sēo fræte āstandendness heora cennendra æbylġes,
Þā nān būtan heora ċildra ende animan mihte,
Þurh twēġa tīda fæċ nū ūrne wæfersolor befyleð.

Ġif ġē his mid ġehyldigum ēarum becēpaþ,
Onġinþ ūre ġedeorf þā hēr forgȳmdan ġebētan.

LITERAL MODERN ENGLISH BACK-TRANSLATION

Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where our story takes place,
From old hatred burst forth to new sedition,
Where citizens' blood stains citizens' hands.

Forth from the fated loins of these two enemies,
Two fate-joined lovers take their life,
Whose unfortunate efforts, plotting against the feud,
Bury their parents' strife with death.

The frightful course of their love, condemned by fate,
And the obstinate persistence of their parents' anger,
Which nothing but their children's end could remove,
Will now over the course of two hours fill up our stage.

If you heed it with patient ears,
Our toil will attempt to remedy the things neglected here.
 
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