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Rusty Saber

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by Joe McAdoo

A comedian, I can't recall his name, once said that he had written a sequel to William Shakespeare's "Hamlet." The entire dialogue consisted of "Where did everybody go?"

I'm not much of a fan of sequels. However, the comedic notion of a sequel to a masterpiece such as "Hamlet" raised a question in my mind.

Shakespeare and the other great writers of yesterday turned phrases in a different manner than modern writers. How would the famous pieces of literature and poetry read if they were written today? For instance, how would a 1990s writer phrase Mark Antony's funeral oration in "Julius Caesar"?

Shakespeare began the oration this way:

"Friends, Romans and countrymen, lend me your ears. I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. The evil that men do lives after them; the good is often interred with their bones; so be it with Caesar."

The modern version:

"Hello, everybody. As Mike Tyson said to Evander Holyfield, 'lend me your ears.' Ho ho, only kidding. A bunch of us over at the forum drew straws; I drew the short one, meaning it's my duty to bury Caesar. I'm not going to try to snow you with a lot of bunk about Caesar. You're going to remember the bad things he did, no matter what I say. So be it ..." You get the idea about the remainder of the oration.

Shakespeare began Hamlet's soliloquy this way:

"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."

The modern version:

"Should I or shouldn't I: It's a tough call. I just don't know. Would I be a chicken if I keep putting up with all this nonsense, or if I take the bull by the horns and end it all?" He continues to contemplate suicide.

Later in the soliloquy, Shakespeare penned one of the finest phrases in the English language: "Thus conscience does make cowards of us all; and thus the native hue of resolution is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought."

The modern version might be: "I believe I'll think about this for a while longer."

Although I could go on "modernizing" Shakespeare for the remainder of this column, I'd like to try my hand with other greats. How about Abraham Lincoln?

"You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time."

Modern version:

"Let me tell you why politicians should never be elected for life ..."

In the 1700s, John Ray wrote: "He that fights and runs away will live to fight another day. But he that is in battle slain will never rise to fight again."

Alexander Pope is credited with this famous one-liner: "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread." Shakespeare (again) adds another famous one-liner: "The better part of valor is discretion."

The modern writer might incorporate all three into: "I don't know about you guys, but I'm getting out of here while the getting's good!"

Lord Byron wrote: "She walks in beauty, like the night, of cloudless climes and starry skies; and all that's best of dark and bright, meet in her aspect and her eyes."

The modern version:

"No matter how you describe her, this is one great looking woman!"

In "Annabel Lee," Edgar Allan Poe wrote:

"It was many a year ago, in a kingdom by the sea, that a maiden there lived whom you may know by the name of Annabel Lee, and this maiden she lived with no other thought than to love and be loved by me."

The modern version:

"You may find this hard to believe, but a long time ago, when I lived near Disney World, a lady named Annabel Lee maybe you've heard of her and I were crazy about each other."

Actually the "Rusty Saber" is the modern version of the original column written by Shakespeare. He called it the "Corroded Epee."

(Joe McAdoo is former chairman of the communication department at Drury College and a Springfield public relations consultant.)

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