Say Yes to No Fear Shakespeare Series


Curtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Nicole Tran, Editor-in-Chief

SparkNotes, an infamous studying website, started publishing translated Shakespearean playwright scripts from its Elizabethan English on the left side while the right side has a modernized translation, which has been dubbed “No Fear Shakespeare.” During its time of publication, teachers have questioned its usefulness while teaching Shakespeare’s work. In my opinion, it benefits students more than it hinders their understanding of Shakespeare’s work.

SparkNotes is a corporation that aims to help students achieve a better understanding of classic literature often studied in English classes such as Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and Emma by Jane Austen. Due to the commodity of Shakespeare in English classes, SparkNotes started publishing the “No Fear Shakespeare” in order to assist with understanding Shakespearean literature.

This series has several benefits towards a student’s understanding of Shakespeare’s work. One benefit is the ability to understand what the play means in certain parts. For example, in Hamlet, Shakespeare writes “Take it to heart? Fie! ‘Tis a fault to heaven,” in Act I, Scene II, Line 101. Most students would see this as “This is a sin to heaven.” However, on the other side of the page, students would be able to see that it translated to “Why should we take it to heart? You’re committing a crime against heaven.” Translating Shakespearean English allows students to understand what the line means and the intentions it was written with. English teachers often emphasize the importance of Shakespearean English but what use does it have if the students don’t even understand what it means in the first place? Another benefit to be found is the fact that the translation is right across the Shakespearean text. This allows students a simple process of observation of the text.

With the benefits of better understanding, there are disadvantages. One such disadvantage is the fact that it does not give students the contextual understanding of the time period. Shakespeare’s work often has context to the reason why these issues in his plays arise and how it connects to the time period we live in. Because we don’t live in Elizabethan England, we would need to understand the aspects of it beforehand which are often lectured through teachers as “prep.” Another disadvantage is not being able to reenact the lines presented because of the dialectic diction such as “thou” and “thee.” Most English teachers at Preuss tend to have students repeat lines so they understand the significance of said line. With this book, since most students only look at the right side, more often than not they stumble and slur Shakespearean words.

I have used the “No Fear Shakespeare” series during this year’s English class, AP English Literature and Composition, also known as AP Lit. In this class, we read Hamlet for our second longer fiction unit. I bought a paper copy of the book so that I would be able to take notes and understand the Shakespearean diction better. Although it benefited me in the assignments given, I had a hard time reading it out loud because of the unfamiliarity it had even though I read Shakespeare’s other work, Romeo and Juliet, in my freshman year.

If students are having trouble interpreting Shakespearean English and the symbolism it comes with it, the “No Fear Shakespeare” series will come in handy. However, this is by no means a source for intellectual cheating as often than not, teachers will quiz on the different aspects of the work being read. Please use this as a study source, not a method for easy As.