ENG 3U: Words Matter

I once had a friend who regularly told me he was impressed by neither writers nor filmmakers. Whenever we talked about a great flick, or I mentioned a book I was reading, he would dismiss the creativity of the work as irrelevant. He would say something like “Big deal. A story about some half-sized human travelling across a continent to drop a ring in a fire? could have written that.”

“A boy who goes to a school for wizards? Nothing special about that. Oh, and that whole Horcrux thing? Stupid. Doesn’t make any sense.”

“A girl with cancer falls for a guy with cancer who eventually dies?  Really? I could have written something better. And Augustus? Who would choose that name? I could have done a better job.”

Because of his unwillingness to take storytelling seriously, we spent most of our time talking about sports.

Oddly, my friend was often partially right. When boiled down to their essences, most stories are really quite simple. Romantic comedies? Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back. Tragedies? A flawed person gives into hubris, reaches the top, and comes crashing back down. The Journey? An unlikely protagonist goes on a series of adventures/trials, defeats a great foe, and returns home a new person. See? Simple.

And yet, not so simple. My friend completely ignored the value of good storytelling. Good storytelling in the arts is really just an extension of good storytelling, well, anywhere else: those who tell stories well use description, voice, pacing, and other tricks of the trade to make their stories stick in our  memories. These great stories become part of us (maybe because, as my friend might suggest, they are powerful variations on the same narrative).

Today, you will read a few scenes from Twelfth Night written in modern tongue. While you will have little to no difficulty understanding the events in the scene, you might be a little underwhelmed by the storytelling. The writers, understandably, chose clarity over beauty: their words are simple, conversational, and common.

Once you have read these modernized scenes, I want you to scan the original scenes for 4 sets of lines that you think are simply better than the translation suggests (for today’s exercise, a “set” will be anywhere from 1 to 4 sequential lines).  For each set, please do the following:

  • identify these lines in some way (highlight? underline?)
  • explain why the original is superior to translation. Be specific: think word choice, sounds, and structure.

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