Dorset author Martin Baum wasn't prepared for the global acknowledgement and success the book would generate.
The complexities of Elizabethan language have been replaced with ‘Yoof-speak’, opening up the world of Shakespeare to youth that might otherwise have given the playwright a miss. The man responsible for the transformation, Martin Baum, speaks to Bonita Silva about what it is like to be adored and abhorred.
England’s most prominent playwright has been subject to a memorable makeover; from traditional Bard, to a man possessing his many “fit bitches”. It’s this candid humour and satire that lends Martin Baum’s re-writing of William Shakespeare an endearing quality and amicability typically lost in literary works.
In a new compendium, ‘To Be or Not To Be, Innit,’ English satirist Martin Baum has reworked the Bard’s Elizabethan language into ‘a yoof-speak guide to Shakespeare’. Amongst 15 of the classic plays, are titles such as Macbeff, Two Geezas of Verona, and Romeo and His Fit Bitch Jools.
Although criticism and praise alike has been aloft in every corner of the literary bandwagon, Baum’s website asserts the book has stayed true to the original texts by “retaining all the important sexist, duplicitous, cross-dressing and violent moments that made William Shakespeare well wicked.”
Written by a man who adored literature and wanted to make Shakespeare more accessible to those who would otherwise share no interest, Baum has always tried to infiltrate his work with an entertaining aspect, and ‘To Be or Not To Be, Innit’ was no different.
“Although I wanted to turn people on to Shakespeare, I never gave a thought to ‘educating’ them. I only wanted to open their eyes through my interpretation and to be aware,” he says.
According to the synopsis for the tragedy Hamlet’s equivalent tale: ‘Amlet, Prince of Denmark, “Dere was somefing minging in de State of Denmark which was making Amlet all uncool,” where his love interest Ophelia becomes “de fit bitch he wanted to be all jiggy jiggy with.”
Traditionalists and the Shakespeare dedicated may have a problem or two: “When my book first grabbed headlines around the world, it seemed that everyone had an opinion on Shakespeare or, more to the point, the author.
“Although I received a lot of positive comments I was also receiving much negativity from people who hadn’t actually read the book but were still, nevertheless, outraged that in their eyes I had committed what amounted to literary treason, because I was perceived to have had the audacity to have rewritten Shakespeare. I haven’t.”
The Shakespeare Institute which is part of the University of Birmingham, is situated in Stratford-upon-Avon – Shakespeare’s birthplace. Director, Professor Kate Mcluskie believes it okay to reword the original works, though says it’s different: “like Mozart tuning without the orchestration.”
She says it’s only ‘literary treason’ if you view Shakespeare as the King or the bible. “He is neither of these and his plays do go on being a source for new forms of creativity - some of which is more creative, some less.”
Although Professor Mcluskie admits she hasn’t read Baum’s work, she says, “I doubt if it is any different from the hundreds of parodic versions that have existed since the eighteenth century. It may be as witty and iconoclastic as any parody but it is certainly not new.”
A Burberry-clad and blinged out Shakespeare has redefined the classics in a youth oriented manner.
Unsurprisingly, Mr. Baum has received several pieces of fan mail; mostly positive, with the occasional dearly offended.
One fan opposes Mcluskie’s view of interpretations being synonymous and identical. Jennifer from Australia says, “I have thought for years that someone should translate the Bards works into plain English, but never thought it would be so cleverly done and it shouldn't offend the purists because it is so very different.”
Two 15 year old girls shared a conflicting viewpoint. Mr. Baum averts The Small Print’s attention to the spelling, punctuation, and grammatical inaccuracies. Jenna and Shauni write, “hHe should not appreciated because he calls juliet a ‘fit bitch’ that is just disgraceing his name… the plays should not be changed for unrespectful teenagers. They should be educated in the elizabethian language not today's disgusting slang.”
Mr. Baum believes nothing has altered, and the storyline remains the same.
“No matter how progressive society thinks it is, and no matter how hard people try to take on the Establishment, elitism will always be a part of it as reaction, as my book has shown,” he says.
Professor Mcluskie however believes the question is whether it is a good parody or silly parody: “Some of the bloggers think it is the latter. It sounds as though it might offend so called ‘yoof’ more than it offends serious literary critics.”
Yet offence to youth may not be the obstruction. Street slang is part of evolution, an accepted part of society Baum says. Professionals and everyday people alike utilise abbreviations in text messages without sparing a thought for their facilitation of a “mangled English evolution.”
A critique Mr. Baum shares harps on the beauty of Shakespeare’s language. Editor of The Shakespeare Post, John Lawrence believes rewriting his language into “yoof-speak” means it “becomes a joke or a novelty.”
Mr. Lawrence is quick to dismiss the work, for “the only real relevance or positive outcome of this story is that Mr. Baum receives free PR for several days.”
Mixed reactions are nothing new. Baum says, “To some I’m exploiting and making a mockery of Shakespeare. I’ve been called a smug academic who’s too white and privileged to understand ‘the street’ and even, as disturbing as it sounds, a figure of hate.
“But to many I’m actually making a difference to, amongst others, parents or ordinary families who remember only too well how difficult it was studying Shakespeare when they were at school.”
When asked to conjure up a pick up line for Romeo had he been de fit bitch Jules sittin’ at de bar, Baum tells The Small Print, “Oy, sex on de stick, is you lookin’ for jiggy jiggy?”
From “getting maximum respect from all de boyz in de ghetto” with Macbeff, to “larging it and being so wicked with everyone” with Jools Ceasar – where to from here?
“Although the Bible was tempting, I think Charles Dickens is a natural progression,” he says.
Images: Provided by author