Friday, April 17, 2015

Shakespeare Schmooped

by Zachary Olson

You use the Plain Style. It's everywhere: a Facebook post, a text to your friend, a note you write to yourself so you don’t forget something later. The Plain Style is meant to be understandable, and it's even used to describe things that aren’t meant to be understandable. It’s thought of as an effective method of communication.
But what does plain style do, and how does it do it? In order to answer these questions, two pieces of work will be compared: Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare and the famous tragedy’s summary on I have chosen to analyze the first two paragraphs of Schmoop’s summary, and the prologue of Romeo and Juliet because theyre similar in length. But besides length, there’s nothing similar about these two, as shown by the side-by-side comparison of the two.

Romeo and Juliet- Prologue

Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents' strife.
The fearful passage of their death-mark'd love,
And the continuance of their parents' rage,
Which, but their children's end, nought could remove,
Is now the two hours' traffic of our stage;
The which if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.

Romeo and Juliet- Summary
We start off with a little action: a duel between the servants of two enemy families of Verona: the Montagues and the Capulets. Exciting! After the swords are sheathed, Verona's Prince shows up to say that the next person who fights is going to get killed, and he means it this time.
Along comes Romeo Montague, mooning over some chick named Rosaline. Meanwhile, Juliet Capulet, age thirteen, has just heard that Verona's most eligible bachelor Paris has his eye on her. They're going to check each other out that night at a masquerade ball at the Capulets' house. (At least it's parentally sanctioned child abuse.) Romeo and his friends have decided to crash the Capulet ball—in costume—because Rosaline is on the guest list.



Readability Formula
Average Grade Level



Readability Formula
Average Grade Level

It’s not surprising to see that the summary is statistically easier to read than Romeo and Juliet. And from these readability measurements, we also see the summary successfully target what would be thought of as the desired reading grade level, the average for an American: 7th grade. But Romeo and Juliet doesn’t hit that grade level. This is largely because Shakespeare wasn’t developing any of his pieces using modern English, which is what the readability calculator is judging off of. But, first, how reliable are readability scores? And second, and more importantly, is a work of art like Romeo and Juliet meant to be calculated and summarized?
To be blunt: no, it's not. Romeo and Juliet wasn’t meant to be read quickly under duress without any available reflection time. Shakespeare didn’t write his words to be skimmed, just as every great novelist doesn’t. The apparent difficulty reading this play, as indicated by the readability score, is intentional from the author.
But lets say you remembered you have a book report due in the morning on Romeo and Juliet. And you think to yourself “there’s no way I can read that whole play in one night. It's Flesh-Kincaid Reading Ease is 9.1 points lower than the summary!” Why not quickly get the gist of what the book is about, so you can write an accurate book report? This is the beauty of Schmoop: it lends a helping hand to procrastinating students.
So is the plain style valuable? Is it necessary? Is it ethical? I know many students that would aggressively nod their head at those questions. Students cram: sometimes by necessity, sometimes as a product of procrastination. But it's not just students, everyone crams. There aren’t enough hours in a day to sit down and fully invest yourself in whatever you heart desires that day. But is cramming affecting how we understand literature? And what does this say about summaries?
The summary disengages itself from the pieces it's summarizing. What a summary does is not shorten the prose. It doesn’t just restate powerful quotes or important information. It extracts identity. The summarizer could have written his summary in Shakespearian prose, beginning the passage with “mine apologies, but this summary wilt not beest effective the slightest bit.” He could have given the reader at least some sense of Romeo and Juliet but he didn’t. In fact, if he’s responsible for anything, it's taking out everything Shakespearian from the play.
He added his own twist, using a conversational, easy-to-read writing voice. And this is to be expected; the job of the summarizer is to deliver the meaning of something in the most condensed, easily understandable way. This particular Schmoop summarizer uses the plain style to communicate more effectively by removing the identity of Romeo and Juliet and adding his own.
Maybe plain style takes away from the beauty of eloquent prose. But also, maybe it’s doing the exact opposite. Maybe it's drawing in wider crowds of people, not just everyone lucky enough to be able to read at the 14th grade level (the grade level that Romeo and Juliet was written at). To many, the “beauty” of eloquent prose lies not just in the writing itself, but also in the meaning behind the words. If plain style can communicate effectively to the most people, a summary of a piece of literature isn’t extracting from the beauty of the piece, it's spreading that beauty to wider audiences.

No comments:

Post a Comment