Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sunday Reading

“taH pagh taHbe” — Shakespeare has been translated into a lot of different languages over the centuries. Now the Bard goes where no one has gone before.

Don’t you love that remarkable moment when roSenQatlh and ghIlDenSten exit the stage and Khamlet is left alone to deliver the immortal words: “baQa’, Qovpatlh, toy’wl”a’ qal je jIH”?

No? Well, it always kills on Kronos. That’s the home planet of the Klingons, the hostile race that antagonizes the Federation heroes of “Star Trek.” We learned back in ’91 in “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” that the Klingons love them some Shakespeare. Or as he’s known to his ridged-foreheaded devotees in the space-alien community: Wil’yam Shex’pir.

The line above might be more familiar to earthlings as “O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I!” But now, we Terrans have an opportunity to savor Shex’pir as the Klingons do. The Washington Shakespeare Company, that Arlington outpost of offbeat treatments of classic plays, is going where no D.C. enterprise has ever quite gone before, offering up a whole evening of Shakespeare — in Klingon.

At the company’s annual benefit Sept. 25 in Rosslyn, selections from “Hamlet” and “Much Ado About Nothing” will be performed in the language that was invented for the Klingon characters of the “Star Trek” films. Actors will be speaking the verse in two languages, English and Klingon, and the lines in each will correspond to the Bard’s signature meter: iambic pentameter. The translations are courtesy of the Klingon Language Institute, a Pennsylvania group that published “The Klingon Hamlet” several years ago, in addition to composing the Klingon version of “Much Ado About Nothing.”

Of course, when considering this curious approach to Shakespeare — eccentric even by the idiosyncratic standards of contemporary niche theater — the question inevitably arises: Why? As it turns out, the troupe has an answer so logical it might satisfy Mr. Spock. The chairman of Washington Shakespeare’s board just happens to be the man who invented Klingonspeak for the films: Marc Okrand, a longtime linguist at the Vienna-based National Captioning Institute.

Then, too, Shakespeare sci-fi style appeals to the whimsical impulses of the company’s longtime artistic director, Christopher Henley. “It kind of fits into our company identity, of trying to breathe some fresh air into the classics, of doing something really, really different with them,” he says. “It seems a way to say that we’re not as reverent as other companies in town.”

No kidding. This is the group that three years ago staged a really, really different version of “Macbeth” — in the nude. On this occasion, its actors will simply be cloaking the famous lines in words from the Klingon dictionary that Okrand published 25 years ago. Lines like “taH pagh taHbe.’ ” Which perhaps you know as: “To be or not to be.”

YouTube: Christopher Plummer as General Chang recites Shakespeare in battle.

More below the fold.

Steve Benen reviews the Tea Party rally in Washington yesterday.

For a year and a half, we’ve seen rallies and town-hall shouting and attack ads and Fox News special reports. But I still haven’t the foggiest idea what these folks actually want, other than to see like-minded Republicans winning elections. To be sure, I admire their passion, and I applaud their willingness to get involved in public affairs. If more Americans chose to take a more active role in the political process, the country would be better off and our democracy would be more vibrant.

But that doesn’t actually tell us what these throngs of Americans are fighting for, exactly. I’m not oblivious to their cries; I’m at a loss to appreciate those cries on anything more than a superficial level.

This is about “freedom.”

Well, I’m certainly pro-freedom, and as far as I can tell, the anti-freedom crowd struggles to win votes on Election Day. But can they be a little more specific? How about the freedom for same-sex couples to get married? No, we’re told, not that kind of freedom.

This is about a fight for American “liberties.”

That sounds great, too. Who’s against American “liberties”? But I’m still looking for some details. Might this include law-abiding American Muslims exercising their liberties and converting a closed-down clothing store into a community center? No, we’re told, not those kinds of liberties.

This is about giving Americans who work hard and play by the rules more opportunities.

I’m all for that, too. But would these opportunities include the chance for hard-working Americans to bring their kids to the doctor if they get sick, even if the family can’t afford insurance? No, we’re told, not those kinds of opportunities.

This is about the values of the Founding Fathers.

I’m a big fan of the framers’ generation, who created an extraordinary nation. But if we’re honoring their values, would this include their steadfast commitment to the separation of church and state? No, we’re told, not those values.

This is about patriotic Americans willing to make sacrifices for the good of their country.

That sounds reasonable; sacrifices can be honorable. But if we’re talking about patriots willing to sacrifice, does that mean millionaires and billionaires can go back to paying ’90s-era tax rates (you know, when the economy was strong)? No, we’re told, not those kinds of sacrifices.

This is about a public that, at long last, wants to hear the truth from those who speak in their name.

What a great idea. Maybe that means we can hear the truth about global warming? About the fact that health care reform wasn’t a socialized government takeover? About Social Security not going bankrupt? About how every court ruling conservatives don’t like doesn’t necessarily constitute “liberal judicial activism”? No, we’re told, not those truths.

Movements — real movements that make a difference and stand the test of time — are about more than buzz words, television personalities, and self-aggrandizement. Change — transformational change that sets nations on new courses — is more than vague, shallow promises about “freedom.”

Labor unions created a movement. Women’s suffrage was a movement. The fight for civil rights is a movement. The ongoing struggle for equality for gays and lesbians is a movement. In each case, the grievance was as clear as the solution. There was no mystery as to what these patriots were fighting for. Their struggles and successes made the nation stronger, better, and more perfect.

The folks who gathered in D.C. today were awfully excited about something. The fact that it’s not altogether obvious what that might be probably isn’t a good sign.

A Palin for the Left — Anna Holmes and Rebecca Traister say the Democrats need to find their own Mama Grizzly.

The left’s failure to nurture and celebrate female politicians has had a significant effect on its policies. In recent years, Democratic majorities and progressive legislation seem to have been built on steady trade-offs of reproductive rights, culminating this year when the first female speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, was forced to push through health care reform with a compromise on abortion financing.

An older generation of female Democrats, including Mrs. Clinton and Ms. Pelosi, are about as eager to mount a Palin-style girl-powered campaign as they are to wear a miniskirt on the House floor. For them, proudly or aggressively touting one’s feminist credentials (if you’re actually a feminist, that is) is taboo. It’s considered too, well, female.

But as women of a different generation — of, gulp, Sarah Palin’s generation — we wonder if Democrats shouldn’t look to her for twisted inspiration, and recognize that the future of women in politics will be about coming to terms with (and inventing) new models.

Imagine a Democrat willing to brag about breaking the glass ceiling at the explosive beginning, not the safe end, of her campaign. A liberal politician taking to Twitter to argue that big broods and a “culture of life” are completely compatible with reproductive freedom. A female candidate on the left who speaks as angrily and forcefully about her rivals’ shortcomings as Sarah Barracuda does about the Pelosis and Obamas of the world. A smart, unrelenting female, who, unlike Ms. Palin, wants to tear down, not reinforce, traditional ways of looking at women. But that will require a party that is eager to discover, groom, promote and then cheer on such a progressive Palin.

If Sarah Palin and her acolytes successfully redefine what it means to be a groundbreaking political woman, it will be because progressives let it happen — and in doing so, ensured that when it comes to making history, there will be no one but Mama Grizzlies to do the job.

Doonesbury: Summer dreams.