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Not forever, after all

I've been meaning to mention this Economist review of a soon-to-be-published (in the U.K., that is) glossary of the language of Shakespeare's works — a work intended to assist the translation of the English of Shakespeare's era to our own.

That such a need — especially, as the Economist points out, when it comes to words we think we already know — requires an entire, 676-page book is troubling. Some works of art, it turns out, are more immortal than others, and not just because of their relative brilliance. (Who hasn't watched a glorious, old movie — a classic — and chuckled at the clumsiness of stunts that at the time made audiences shiver, or the innocence of scenes that once made viewers gasp?)

Most writers only figure out why they write as they do it; those that think they do it for posterity can't ever really be sure. But if even our most seemingly transparent words may (and if some certainly will) ultimately betray us, injecting confusion where we'd thought we'd captured perfect clarity, then I guess even the most readable writer can only pray that, in the end, his or her work will be no more challenging than Shakespeare's — and that someone will bother to compile the 21,263 definitions needed to decipher it.

July 11, 2002 2:35 PM

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