Thursday, March 30, 2006

TextWord, Abridgements and False Advertising

What do you, dear readers, know of the company called TextWord?

It is a company that claims to "cleanse" literature, allowing us all to remain pure and clutch at our "traditional values." In 'The TextWord Story' they explain, "TextWord Press emerged in response to a critical need expressed by private and parochial high school principals across America. "Give us an academically superior high school literature series that is free of material that conflicts with our values," they urged. [emph. mine] The result is our Implications of Literature series, a breakthrough in literature/language arts integration. The series features content chosen for time-tested literary quality, providing a classic and traditional values-oriented curriculum."

I had the unfortunate experience of being made to read the TextWord edition of Julius Caesar while at Templars. To their credit, Templars has resumed using Folger Classics, after that one regrettable lapse. However, their reason for switching back to Folgers is not the correct one- they're doing it because the TextWord edition made it "too easy" for the students; I would do it because you're simply not reading Shakespeare otherwise.

The method of editing these people employ is completely ridiculous. Every time the words "ye gods" or "thy gods" appear, they are suddenly taken out. What is this? Are you holier than the Torah? If the Torah discusses idols, idolworshippers, and other gods, why do you suddenly decide this conflicts with Jewish teenagers' "traditional values"? All mention of sex and sexuality is also excised. Most importantly, there can be no violence depicted. {Clarification: No self-mutilation, like Portia's wound, but apparently suicides and Brutus'/Julius' violent deaths are okay. The logic in this? I don't know.} This makes for an interesting reading of the play.

The following is an example of the idiotic re-bawdlerization (but worse!) or rather, Jewification of Shakespeare.

The words in print are those that are in the work itself, while the words in bold are those that disappeared, were replaced by ellipses, and simply vanished from Shakespeare.

Here's a "gods" example from Act 1, Scene 3.

    Are not you moved, when all the sway of earth
    Shakes like a thing unfirm? O Cicero,
    I have seen tempests, when the scolding winds
    Have rived the knotty oaks, and I have seen
    The ambitious ocean swell and rage and foam,
    To be exalted with the threatening clouds:
    But never till to-night, never till now,
    Did I go through a tempest dropping fire.
    Either there is a civil strife in heaven,
    Or else the world, too saucy with the gods,
    Incenses them to send destruction.
Is this not ridiculous? The Romans and Greeks believed in many gods, removing all references to them is surely not remotely logical? Are you trying to rewrite history? Why? What does this have to do with "traditional values?"

Now a violence example:

    Kneel not, gentle Portia.

    I should not need, if you were gentle Brutus.
    Within the bond of marriage, tell me, Brutus,
    Is it excepted I should know no secrets
    That appertain to you? Am I yourself
    But, as it were, in sort or limitation,
    To keep with you at meals, comfort your bed,
    And talk to you sometimes?
    Dwell I but in the suburbs
    Of your good pleasure? If it be no more,
    Portia is Brutus' harlot, not his wife.

    You are my true and honourable wife,
    As dear to me as are the ruddy drops
    That visit my sad heart

    If this were true, then should I know this secret.
    I grant I am a woman; but withal
    A woman that Lord Brutus took to wife:
    I grant I am a woman; but withal
    A woman well-reputed, Cato's daughter.
    Think you I am no stronger than my sex,
    Being so father'd and so husbanded?
    Tell me your counsels, I will not disclose 'em:
    I have made strong proof of my constancy,
    Giving myself a voluntary wound
    Here, in the thigh: can I bear that with patience.
    And not my husband's secrets?

    O ye gods,
    Render me worthy of this noble wife!

    Knocking within

    Hark, hark! one knocks: Portia, go in awhile;
    And by and by thy bosom shall partake
    The secrets of my heart.
    All my engagements I will construe to thee,
That's from Act 2, Scene 1

I can understand (although I don't agree) with someone's decision to remove the insinuations of sex and relationships between a husband and wife. But why in the world would you remove the lines, "Think you I am no stronger than my sex, Being so father'd and so husbanded?" from the text? Obviously, sex is referring to gender in this passage. What is wrong with Portia asking Brutus whether he believes she is no stronger than her gender? The only reason I can come up with is that the editor indiscriminately removed all references to sex, which I find truly laughable.

Here's the real kicker to the whole situation, however- unless you know the company and have seen their website, you won't know the version you are buying is adapted/ abbreviated/ lacks certain passages. Nowhere on the back book jacket or online (unless it's the actual site itself) does it explain this.

The front cover doesn't say "Abbreviated/ Abridged" but simply "The TextWord Edition."

Even in TextWord's description of their own product, they do not mention this, but simply state the many pluses and advantages to having it.

The Amazon link doesn't say anything about this fact, and the woman who wrote the second review only discusses the special features- leaving out the fact that certain passages have vanished completely.

Barnes and Noble has the same description for the TextWord version as it does for every other Julius Caesar version.

So tell me, isn't this false advertising? If the book is available from major retailers such as Barnes & Noble and Amazon, is unmarked (nowhere does it say Edited/ Bawdlerized/ Jewified/ Abridged) on it, then how can it be sold? Why is this less of an infringement on "traditional values" than the actual words of the text are? Isn't this misleading and wrong?

Now, it is possible that this is not done deliberately- that TextWord believes the changes are so insignificant to the book that this really is the same Julius Caesar. The thing is, if they state so clearly on their website that what they are doing is being done in order to mantain "traditional values" doesn't that mean they are fully aware that for some people, they have made major changes? And if so, why isn't that written anywhere? The words 'TextWord edition' on a book is not going to convey this meaning to unsuspecting customers looking for a helpful edition on Amazon. They'll just think it's the same thing as 'Puffin Classics' or 'Penguin Classics' or something- it would not occur to them that by the very fact that it's made by TextWord, this means it's been edited.

If something very significant like this, however, is not mentioned anywhere on or in the book...isn't that false advertising? And isn't this all rather ironic, considering the goal in mind?

I found a nice website apparently based in Jerusalem- something called the Schechter Institute (and no, I have no idea how religious this place is or isn't) and saw this interesting article about Jewish Business Ethics. It discusses the origins of false advertising. All his examples, however, focus on someone DOING something to mislead another person. In the case that I describe, where passivity is the problem (i.e. nowhere does it say the book has been modified in any way) is that still called false advertising? And if not, what's the correct term?

Anyway, here's an interesting Gemara from the aformentioned website.

    Our Sages have taught: one should not sell a sandal made from the leather of an animal that died of disease as if it was made from the leather of an animal that was slaughtered, because he is misleading the customer" (Hullin 94a).

I like that. I like that a lot.

Anyhow, what are your thoughts on TextWord? I suppose that in the end, if this is the only way certain students are ever going to read Shakespeare, then I approve (because at least they're reading) but I disagree with the ideas behind it/ prompting it. I also find the attempt to rewrite history ridiculous. Moreover, according to these people's specifications, no Jew could ever read Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina, The Awakening or Tess of the D'Urbevilles (not that I mind that one) even if the books are aimed against the flagrant flaunting of sexuality as Gustave Flaubert's book was:

from the Trial of Madame Bovary:

    You are not the kind of men who condemn books on a few lines; you are the kind who judge the intention and the execution above all, and you will ask yourselves the question with which I opened my defense and with which I now close: Does the reading of such a book give a love of vice or does it inspire a horror of vice? Is not so terrible an expiation an inducement and an incitement to virtue?

So, thoughts?


G said...

"Most importantly, there can be no violence depicted."

Shakespeare...w/o violence? Huh, talk about an alternate ending.

(Are we sure that Disney is not behind this in some way)

Chana said...

Clarification: No personal violence (like the self-mutilation Portia practices) but wars are okay.

Disney's actually pretty violent sometimes (think "Hunchback of Notre Dame")

Jewish Atheist said...

Wow. I've heard of companies which edit movies for Christians, but messing with Shakespeare seems sacreligious. If your "values" prohibit the uncensored reading of Shakespeare then you probably shouldn't be exposing children to him at all. The idea of Shakespeare without sex and violence is absurd -- it'd be like showing The Godfather without violence or swearing. And chas v'shalom the students get curious and decide attend a play! Boy will they be in for a surprise.

I think any half-hearted attempt to water down Western civilization will fail. Either you believe it's worthwhile, in which case Shakespeare is essential, or you fear its influence, in which case you should quit pretending.

That said, I was always surprised that we were allowed (i.e. forced) to read Shakespeare. It's full of violence, sex, bawdy jokes, and unOrthodox messages. Monotheism is completely absent, replaced variously with paganism, humanism, and witchcraft.

Anonymous said...

"Every time the words "ye gods" or "thy gods" appear, they are suddenly taken out. What is this? Are you holier than the Torah? If the Torah discusses idols, idolworshippers, and other gods, why do you suddenly decide this conflicts with Jewish teenagers' "traditional values"?"

You forget that TextWord Press is a division of ARTSCROLL, the same folks who translated "elohim acheirim" in the aseres hadibros as "the gods of others." Go on, look it up.

Irina Tsukerman said...

I am absolutely against censorship and I find TextWord simply despicable. : (

Tobie said...

Wow...I know that I'm usually the self-appointed Templar's devil's advocate, but this one is a bit tricky even for me.
Okay...hold on...Okay, I'm good now.

While I recognize that this is a distortion of the actual play, there are a lot of students at the school who are simply not comfortable exposing themselves to things of this nature. Attempting to steer clear of sexual and violent images is not necessarily an act of retreat, but a conscious decision to keep oneself pure. (I think that you discussed this, slightly, in the 'sheltering' post.) Although this may not be my view, one can argue that it's unfair to force students to read things that they find immoral, when there are options out there to better suit their sensibilities. Shakespeare with certain bits left out can nonetheless illustrate quite a bit of literariness and depth, and open the door for quite a bit of analysis.
Also, you said that often bits left out were replaced by ellipses. For me, that's already an admission that it's edited and not necessarily false advertising. Also, I think that everyone who buys these books is basically aware that it's been 'fumigated'; was anyone in your class under the impression that it was the original? While it might fool people buying from Amazon, I think that most of its target audience know exacty what it is.
As for the 'gods' thing, I think that probably the editors didn't want to highlight the fact that the people discussed, including the heroes, were all pagans, since it just introduces unnecessary religious conflicts and so forth.

Alright, that said, I find the whole thing frankly nauseating if it wasn't so darn funny. I have to ask- do they allow all of the bloody suicides at the end of the book, and if not, how does it end?

G said...

-->Disney's actually pretty violent sometimes
Disney = "And they lived happily ever after"
Shakespeare = Not so much happily, assuming they even lived ever after.

-->No personal violence
Wonder how they end Romeo&Juliet.

-->it'd be like showing The Godfather without violence or swearing.
That would never happen. Everyone knows that Shakespeare is very personal, whereas the just business.

e-kvetcher said...

There was talk of a similar thing being done with DVDs where they would edit all the "offensive" parts out of movies.

Someone made a joke that they did it with Deliverance and what was left was a shot of people walking into the woods and then immediately coming out looking all messed up.

Chana said...

Tobie dearest,

The majority of the class thought they were reading the original Julius Caesar. But you see, I'd read Julius Caesar before and realized there was quite a bit missing. My English teacher had initially thought they took out the "ye gods" pieces but nothing else.

There are quite a few places that have ellipses....and also a LOT of places that didn't. Things like you were "called from bed" vs. "called from my bed" (and even whole sentences.) Small as it may seem, again, that's a huge difference with the whole Portia-Brutus thing.

If you're attempting to steer clear of sexual and violent images, why bother reading the Bible? There is SO much there sexually- Tamar and Amnon, David and Bathsheba, Tamar and Judah, and more. By bowdlerizing Shakespeare you simply draw one's attention even MORE to the sections you've cut out.

Er...literary options to better suit one's sensibilites? What would that be again? Oh, let's see, just judging by theatrical performances- Peter Pan, Annie, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory vs. War and Peace, West Side Story, and The Metamorphosis?

I'm always entertained by the Templars curriculum. No Jane Eyre or Romeo and Juliet because that'd be too romantic- no, we go with dear old Huck Finn, Macbeth (although we skip the porter scene) and why not throw in (although they haven't yet) some Little Women while we're at it?

Entertainingly, they do include the bloody suicides by the end. They include Portia's suicide. But they can't include Portia's self-inflicted wound. Logic? Nope.

East of California said...

Having left the hallowed halls of HS longer ago than I care to admit, my reaction to the use of this text is... so what? Maybe its because at this stage in my life, Shakespeare does little for me, or for that matter most classic literature, but if a school thinks it can impart some lessons in literature using a sanitized text, so be it. And if a Templars grad goes through life thinking that this is what Shakespeare is all about, I fail to see the grave harm. I used unsanitized texts myself when in Yeshiva high school (and when I read 1984 I myself though that it was a mistake on the school's part - only because of the sex,) and even having gone to a nice Jesuit university with a core curriculum that included literature, I still fail to see how using a sanitized text would have harmed me. And sorry, Irina, its not "censorship." The publishing company can do all that it wants to the text that it publishes, and it is not forcing those changes on anyone.

And yes, the company can honestly call it "Shakespeare that meets our values," because how else could someone possibly understand what that means unless it means "objectionable" parts that "offend" values have been removed.

Would I expect this in a college literature class? No. For high school purposes, I really do not see what the big issue is, from a practical standpoint. Can someone have a philosphical disagreement, arguing that the classics should remain unadultered, so all is in context, etc etc...? Obviously. But then someone can have a philosphical/religious objection about including "offensive" pieces. But, as I said, at the end of the day, knowing that my kids read censored Shakespeare will not keep me awake at night.

Nicole said...

The harm in censoring something is that what is being censored cannot be acknowledged and addressed accordingly. The censoror can come accross as being avoidant, closed minded and intellectually dishonest, and these qualities can also be attached by the censoree to the positive, honest, thoughtful and valid information that the censoror has conveyed. Take biblical criticism for example. If yeshivot censor this topic and don't address it, when a yeshiva student or graduate comes across biblical criticism, they may perceive that their school and teachers censored and supressed it because they were afraid of it and did not have a rational/valid counter opinion. The censoree may also perceive that they cannot engage in dialogue about the topic openly with the censoree, and fear retribution for bringing up the issue in a dialogue, if only to better understand whether a valdi counterposition exists, ie. being called an heretic. While a 6 year old may not need to be exposed to issues surrounding sexuality, violence, abuse, addiction, obscenity, death, etc., the avoidance of dealing with these issues at the appropriate time can have significant harmful effects when the censoree encounters these ideas/issues in their own life at a later date and without a framework for incorporating their values into dealing with these ideas/issues.

When the only way to deal with real issues is to avoid them and bury them, how can someone be prepared to deal with them when some of those issues inevitably come up in their lives?

Halfnutcase said...

chana, your assuming anyone else does anything better.

most highschool litterary collections are even worse censored than that, and they don't just omit lines they actualy change them.

one author lemented in the afterward of a book (ferenheit 411) that they took everything that was of substance out of childrens books, highschool litturature collections, and even alot of other books.

chana a good uncensored copy of a book is hard to come by. i know that my edition of your beloved ivanhoe is heavily censored, as is my copy of robin hood, although i find it extreemely regretable, i once read an uncesored copy of robin hood, i actualy enjoyed it. found out some of my favorite parts where missing in the version i have now (and if btw you can sugest a copy of ivanhoe and robinhood that is not censored i would be much obliged)

chances are chana every single copy of the classics in most bookstores is quite censored, and if they are not they usualy say so somewhere. (i know my copy of ferenheit 411 states so explicitly)

Masmida said...

Is it censorship in essence and all forms that you object to or the facsimile of the genuine article that TextWord presents that you reject?

One note though, life is full of drives underlying sex and violence. Would they rather we learn about it from Ammnon and Tamar, Wuthering Heights or Psycho.

Chana said...


All three! Amnon and Tamar teaches the principle of the love of a thing vs. the love that is independant of anything (Pirkei Avot,) Wuthering Heights teaches about Heathcliff's obsessive love, and Psycho is just plain scary.

While I personally believe bowdlerization is ridiculous, I'm more disturbed by the fact that they do not clearly state the text has been modified.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Chana: Is Ceaser actually killed by Brutus in this version, or is that censored as well?

Sugar coating books (and reality) is a sure way to promote rebellion and rejection among teenagers.

And if not in High School, then later on in life, when rejection and rebellion can have much more serious implications.

East of california (the street) said...

With all due respect Jameel, I imagine that if a teen did revolt, it would not be solely beacuse he did not get his unabridged version of Shakespeare's greatest in HS. I think the problems that people are articulating with the use of the text are symptoms - not the illness itself. There are people voicing opinions as to how schools should be teaching a complete currciulum, including all elements of life experince, positive or not. One illustration of how this school does not do this is the use of an edited (NOT CESNSORED) text that removes "offensive" passages. If the school maintains a philosphy that sex, violence and discussion of other religions are never to be conducted in school - period - use of an unabridged text is not going to solve the problem.

I do not know about Templars, but my experince tells me that the school would rather discuss the issues of sex and violence in the context of a Limudei Kodesh class as opposed to a literature class. When we were learning the incident of Yehuda and Tamar and our Rosh HaYeshiva began discussing the concept of libido and Freud's theories, I think all of us teenage boys squirmed in our seats a bit - but the discussion occurred. It would NOT have happened in literature class. If Hashkafot HaChaim on all matters are to be tought, they should be tought in a Torah-centric school during Limudei Kodesh - "Torah hi, v'tzarich ani lilmod."

Unabridged Shakespeare is not the solution.

MrsAginoth said...

I'm appalled and horrified that it is being taught as Shakespeare.

eIf you are not happy to teach th classics of literature because you disagree with their content, fine, teach something else. write your own books. But you can not remove 1/3 of a text, without explicit recognition, and claim to be teaching the original in any way shape or form.

What other classics do they teach & remove reference to God/sex/violence? Imagine Homer, sans God, or The Canterbury Tales, or Beowolf without violence!

As for "you can't find uncnsored books", Look on Amazon UK - here it illegal to sell an abridged/adapted/annoted/re-told ect book without expressly saying so on the front cover!

Tobie said...

Okay, but all I'm saying is that a lot of people aren't going to get any other Shakespeare than this- refuse to get any more Shakespeare than this. I happen to be fond enough of Shakespeare that I would prefer this system. Yes, it's stupid and illogical and disingenuous, but would it be better to read Artscroll biographies as your entire English curriculum?
As for the Biblical things, I think we all know what the solution to that is. A friend of mine- attending a top-tier college, very intelligent and inquisitive- discovered the story of Yehuda and Tamar for the first time this year, while reading Genesis in one of her classes. The fact is, they don't to face it. And, if they stay secluded enough their whole lives, they may never have to. Why should the high school be the one to burst that particular bubble?

Btw- Metamorphosis has nothing that isn't G-rated, Huck Finn has violence and a good bit of profanity, and Templars once put on a play with a "love triangle" was the silliest thing ever. Before my time, but I think I went to see it.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

East of California:

What I wrote was "Sugar coating books (and reality) is a sure way to promote rebellion and rejection among teenagers."

In the Templars-brand (tm) Yeshiva High School I attended, many things were sugar coated and mis-explained, including gemara.

Either the rabbanim were too embarrassed to teach us the truth, or they had their own reasons -- but I'll never forget how pathetic I sounded when I tried explaining a gemara in post-high school yeshiva to someone, who could not believe what I was saying. I almost died of shame when I learned that I was explaining the gemara incorrectly due to the intentionaly incorrect teaching by our Templars yeshiva.

dbs said...

These ‘clean-ups’ just show how out of touch the schools are with the kids they are teaching. Textword is just exploiting a business opportunity, after all, their goal is to sell books. The more surprising thing is that schools use these versions. It is probable that the ‘false advertising’ aspect is intentional, since you don’t want kids getting too curious about what they may be missing. I actually don’t get the whole thing about deleting the ‘god’ references. Any ideas?

chosha said...

So many angles and all of them bad.

To abridge a book without indicating so when selling it is fradulent business practice.

As for the editing, it's ridiculous. Firstly, we may revere Shakespeare and his language, but he was very much pop culture in his day and with that very ribald and graphic. Not only sex and violence, but some rather interesting plays-on-words with curse words I didn't even know were around at that time until I studied Shakespeare. If you study his works, you need to accept this - the language is beautiful, but there's no denying that his stories and characters can be very ugly, violent and risque.

But beyond that, what he writes is accurate to human life. Look at Romeo and Juliet - remember the scene where Juliet is refusing to marry Paris. Her father tells her that she will, even if he has to drag her to the church. This exchange follows:
Good father, I beseech you on my knees,
Hear me with patience but to speak a word.

Hang thee, young baggage! disobedient wretch!
I tell thee what: get thee to church o' Thursday,
Or never after look me in the face:
Speak not, reply not, do not answer me;
My fingers itch. Wife, we scarce thought us blest
That God had lent us but this only child;
But now I see this one is one too much,
And that we have a curse in having her:

I just know that there is some miserable teenager out there, whose father also refuses to listen, his hands itching to hit and his mouth yelling threats when he is disobeyed. That teenager will study Shakespeare and feel deeply sympathetic towards Juliet's character and the level of desperation she feels when her parents will not even listen or consider her feelings. Moreover, they will know that past and present, there have always been dysfunctional families. It's real.

And it doesn't matter if you come from a genuinely good home, where values actually are upheld - what's wrong with understanding the way the world works so that you have more compassion towards others. The whole attitude is so short-sighted.

To me the answer is simple: if you think Shakespeare is too violent or sexual, DON'T STUDY HIS WORK. The only 'cleaned up' versions of a story I agree with are those for young children, but even then, only those adaptations that change the language, not those that change the important details of the story.

Chilled Yungerman said...

Wow things have really changed in the past fifteen years. I went to a right of center high school and we read Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night's Dream and even To Kill a Mocking Bird (which has the word "whore", yikes)

Urijah said...

Why don't they use the original?
The original bowdlerization, that is...

s said...

This is so weird. I thought my Bais Yaakov was MODERATE. What exactly is Templars? You are lucky that your school switched back to the folger version. I was forced to use the Artscroll. Needless to say, I wrote in all the passages that they left out. (I had read it before.) We have the same exact curriculum. Huck Finn, and Macbeth (without the doorman scene). It is so strange. Almost everything that you write about your school could apply to mine.

Sorry I posted so late. I only discovererd this blog recently. I'm trying to catch up and I just had to comment.

inkstainedhands said...

Like S, I am also trying to catch up only now on what I have missed. (Chana, I don't know if you receive these comments on old posts, but here it is anyway.)

I followed the link in the blog post to TextWord's website, and lo and behold, there is my 11th grade literature book.

I NEVER knew that it was edited, and I am kind of angry now actually. We did not use the book much during the school year (we had a second one), but just the fact that we received books that contained edited, censored versions of literature angers me.

I take literature very seriously, and believe that if an author wrote a certain word, phrase, or passage, others have no right to tamper with it. Literature is a work of art, and fixing it up to meet your standards is on the same level as taking a paint brush and painting over Mona Lisa's exposed skin.