Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Prose Is Not Verse (Even If It's Shakespeare)

I've written before that when The New Yorker prints "vocal chords" instead of "vocal cords" (something I have witnessed twice), it makes me think that the world is going to hell in a handbasket.

And now I have witnessed an even more shocking error in this publication, which caused me to throw down the magazine and storm off to blog about my fury.

From Hilton Als' review of Twelfth Night (in the Nov. 25, 2013 issue): "Olivia dodges the entreaties of her visitor, a youth whom her steward, Malvolio (Stephen Fry), drolly describes as 'not yet old enough for a man, nor young / enough for a boy, as a squash is before 'tis a peas- / Cod, or a codling when 'tis almost an apple.'"

Do you see what happened there? The magazine printed Shakespearean prose as though it were verse! Dividing the word "peascod" with a slash and a hyphen, even, for no apparent reason! (Shakespeare will enjamb lines of verse, but he never splits a word down the middle between lines of verse.) But there's no verse structure, no rhythm or meter, underlying these words! It's prose, dammit!

Who's to blame, I wonder? This suggests that the magazine's head theater critic, or possibly his editor, doesn't know the difference between prose and blank verse (or perhaps they mistakenly think that all of Shakespeare is written in verse). Which is a disturbing thought, to say the least.

Especially because when I heard Hilton Als speak in 2009, he suggested that "plays should be treated as literature" and that it's therefore OK to read them instead of seeing them. (A very strange attitude for a theater critic to take, I thought.) And if you are reading a Shakespeare play, rather than seeing it, you should definitely be able to tell the difference between verse and prose!

So I hope that this error is just the work of some entry-level bozo at the copy-editing desk, so I can go on with my faith in The New Yorker undimmed. (And there are some nice insights and turns of phrase, as well as an appreciation for the "poetic reality" of live theater and the craft of acting, in the rest of Als' review.)


Dr.J said...

Happy New Year, dear Marissa! Certainly is not for me as a foreigner to comment on errata, but curiously enough I always begin me reading year with some Nabokov and his biography by Brian Boyd (The Russian Years). In 1951 his story "The Vane Sisters" was rejected by The New Yorker and even those Nabokov works accepted for publication were the victims of masive editing and remarks from the Yorker team.
In those classic words "O tempora, o mores!"
I apologize in advance for any mistake or misprint in this comment!

Dr.J said...

MY reading year, sorry!

Marissa Skudlarek said...

Happy New Year, Dr. J! Since writing this post, I have found even MORE mistakes in recent "New Yorker" issues. First, in an opera listing, they said that Rolando Villazon (tenor) would sing Onegin and Peter Mattei (baritone) would sing Lenski in a production of "Eugene Onegin," when really it should be the other way round.

Then, there is this very interesting comment thread alleging that a recent New Yorker short story, "Benji," is basically plagiarized from an Alice Munro story, "Corrie," that they published just 3 years ago! http://mookseandgripes.com/reviews/2013/11/04/chinelo-okparanta-benji/

Maybe Nabokov chafed under their editorial restrictions back in 1951, but it seems that now the pendulum has swung the opposite way and that the editors need to be more thorough...

Dr.J said...

Well, some would say that Villazón is not a tenor anymore after his recent vocal (chord and cords) problems; funny that things always come in threads, Onegin was of course the masterpiece of Nabokov´s translating efforts, finishing with three volumes of notes and introduction.
But I think that "censorship" is more worrying that mere slackness in editing. Two chapters of Nabokov "PNIN" were rejected by the New Yorker in 1954 because they attacked psychoanalysis and
USSR respectively and, of course, Lolita was completely out of the question for the magazine. Are we (well, you Americans above all) sure that censorship is dead and buried sixty years later?
By the way, have you thought of quitting the Yorker and reading "The New Criterion?

Marissa Skudlarek said...

Yes, way to tie everything together (Villazon's vocal cord problems; Nabokov being a huge fan of "Onegin")!

I don't know what, if anything, the New Yorker is censoring in terms of fiction these days.

Isn't the New Criterion a conservative publication? Despite the typos in the New Yorker, I tend to prefer to read more liberal attitudes.