From School Library Journal:
There’s a good argument that Shakespeare is the world’s most popular author. About 90 percent of American schools assign Shakespeare to students. His work has been translated into more than 100 languages. Declare “To be or not to be,” and most will answer, “That is the question.” The Bard’s work is widely integrated across culture, education, and the modern English language. Despite this, people find Shakespeare hard. Some might even say too hard.
In a recent survey of 500 teachers, 56 percent said their students found Shakespeare difficult to read. Of these teachers, 60 percent said the Elizabethan language was the biggest obstacle for students reading the plays. The themes of love, betrayal, and ambition are timeless—but maybe Elizabethan English isn’t. For many first-time readers, Shakespeare’s plays are full of unfamiliar words, phrasing, and grammatical constructions.
This reported difficulty with the language shouldn’t be viewed as a problem with Shakespeare. Elizabethan English didn’t suddenly become dated in 2023. It’s been unfamiliar and antiquated to readers for many decades. But increasingly, the language is a barrier to new readers starting a love affair with the material.
Here, in my view, artificial intelligence (AI) offers a unique benefit: facilitating the reading experience of Shakespeare’s works. Large language models (LLMs: the AI systems that power popular products like ChatGPT) have exciting potential to help people read older texts with relative ease.
If you provide AI models with text, they can instantaneously synthesize, explain, and contextualize it. They offer definitions of words, historical context, and other details that might escape a modern reader. If you’re reading War and Peace and have a foggy sense of Russian history, running a passage through an AI model quickly provides bullet points on Napoleon’s invasion of Russia as well as definitions of period-specific terms.
AI can also accurately paraphrase Elizabethan language into modern English so readers can understand any line of Shakespeare. This strategy isn’t intended as a substitute for reading the original text, but as a “reading copilot” on hand to help.
Bard-themed AI tools are gaining popularity. One I created, Shakespeare Translator, has been used by over 50,000 readers. These AI models aren’t deterministic systems with pre-written translations mapped to certain lines. Rather, the tools use LLMs to analyze the context and language patterns, providing modern interpretations.
Many are quick to critique AI-powered reading tools. The arguments essentially center on the idea that using AI waters down the joy and rewards of reading. But using AI isn’t about replacing reading. It’s about helping more people appreciate difficult material, more readily, and with fewer barriers to entry.
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How useful are these translations? Are they accurate? Do they actually help students grasp the meaning of lines? Judge for yourself.
Here’s the original text of the famous Hamlet speech
“To be, or not to be, that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them. To die; to sleep; No more; and by a sleep to say we end the heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.”
Run through a Shakespeare translation tool, this is paraphrased to
“The big question is whether it’s better to keep on living or to end it all. Is it nobler to endure the hardships and misfortunes that life throws at us, or to fight against all the problems that come our way and put an end to them? Death would mean eternal rest and therefore an escape from the pain and suffering that life brings us.”
Or consider this from Richard III
“Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York; And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house in the deep bosom of the ocean buried.”
“Our unhappiness has now turned into joy due to the presence of the ruler from York; and all of our worries and troubles are now in the past.”
Link to the rest at School Library Journal
Here’s a link to Shakespeare Translator
PG’s Borrowed Thoughts:
The dumbing down of American is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30 second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance.Carl Sagan