Linfield English professor gets article published in New Yorker

Elizabeth Stoeger, News editor

Daniel Pollack-Pelzer, professor of English at Linfield, was pleasantly surprised when his article appeared on the New Yorker’s online website.

Pollack-Pelzner’s article, “Why we (Mostly) Stopped Messing with Shakespeare’s Language,” defended the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s (OSF) decision to update the language of Shakespeare in is next season.

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Pollack-Pelzner said, “I’ve subscribed to the New Yorker for twenty years, but I never dreamed that I would have an article published there. I had been corresponding with the literary editor, but I didn’t know that the piece was officially accepted until I saw it on the New Yorker website.”

When OSF announced that it would translate Shakespeare’s plays into modern English, it ignited a furor among hardened Shakespeare devotees.

“These days, we tend to assume that productions can change anything about Shakespeare (the setting, the period, the characters’ race or gender), as long as the script stays intact—cut or reordered, perhaps, but not rewritten. This is a fairly recent notion,” he argued in the article.

In the eighteenth century, it was common for theater companies to spruce up Shakespeare’s language, sometimes altering plot points as well, to make the plays neater.

It was the German Romantics and British critics that changed this, “Rather than subject Shakespeare to critical standards, Shakespeare became the standard,” according to Pollack-Pelzner.

However, “Even in a climate of reverence for Shakespeare, the authentic text of his plays remains elusive.”

His original manuscripts no longer exist so those who wish to republish or produce the play are forced to make changes and “cobble together the most plausible passages from early quartos and folios, modernizing the spelling and punctuation and relying on the history of editorial emendations to clarify obscure cruxes.”

On why he wrote the article, he said, “I wrote the piece to give a historical perspective on the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s new project to translate Shakespeare’s plays into modern English, and I was glad that my colleagues at OSF told me that my article was helping them to make their case.”

The most exciting aspect of the project “is that at least half of the playwrights updating Shakespeare will be women and at least half will be writers of color. The Shakespeare texts we read have always been the products of collaboration between playwrights and editors and actors and directors, and now those collaborators will reflect the wonderful diversity of artists who care about his language. A lot of the critics of the project disregarded this inclusive aspect, and I was glad to draw attention to it.”

When he submitted his article to the New Yorker, Pollack-Pelzner said, “I’ve never been as rigorously edited as I was by the New Yorker: every word was challenged, every punctuation mark was assessed, every fact was checked … it was covered in so many red lines that you could hardly find my original text.”

Being published in the New Yorker is an incredible achievement and a great excitement for any writer and Pollack-Pelzner is certainly no exception, “I even love the typeface that the magazine uses, and it was so exciting to see my words printed in that New Yorker font!”