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Midsummer -- alternate language for the Wall speech

  • 1.  Midsummer -- alternate language for the Wall speech

    Posted 06-11-2020 16:01
    I'm not sure if this article has been posted here yet -- "Phrases we should work to avoid in the Rehearsal Room."
    But it briefly mentions something I've been uncomfortable with for a while -- the use of "chink" in "A Midsummer Night's Dream," which I teach and direct with 8th graders each year. Does anyone have alternate version of the Wall speech that they'd be willing to share?

    Cora Turlish
    Metuchen NJ

  • 2.  RE: Midsummer -- alternate language for the Wall speech

    Posted 06-12-2020 16:53
    I did a little Googling and found this post
    which, among other things, mentions using "kink" instead.

    Cora Turlish
    Metuchen NJ

  • 3.  RE: Midsummer -- alternate language for the Wall speech

    Posted 06-14-2020 11:34
    Hi. Our high school did Midsummer two years ago, and the actor very clearly used a gesture to indicate a hole to help the audience understand. All of the blocking around the scene was past-paced and very clearly helped to establish that they were talking through a hole. We live in a pretty conservative community, and like you, I am always on the lookout for things that could be read incorrectly, but this moment was not a problem. The kids never referred to the word in a derogatory fashion, and the audience reacted as if it meant a hole because of the actor's blocking and gesture. I don't know if that helps or not, but it's a good learning lesson for the kids about older languages. Good luck with your production.

    Julie Hanisch
    English/Drama Teacher
    Mukwonago WI

  • 4.  RE: Midsummer -- alternate language for the Wall speech

    Posted 06-15-2020 21:46

    Ok, I have a lot to say, so I'm going to write two posts, one addressing the WHY of the language change, and one addressing the HOW. This is the HOW post, and it's much shorter than the other one.

    When I first posted, I thought maybe I'd hear from some folks who had already done some creative problem solving around this that I (and other) could benefit from. I did get a direct message from someone that included some suggestions – thank you, Scott! Then I found and shared a blog post about a production in which the creative team chose the word to "kink" after consulting with their dramaturg. I like their line of reasoning, but I get that it might not work for everyone; I'm not sure it's the solution for me either, though I might end up using it. It is probably the simplest solution in terms of the rhyme and meter considerations. Also, "Show me thy kink," is funny, but maybe distracting in a different way?

    Several people have suggested just using hole. For the Wall speech, which is in rhyming couplets, that doesn't work without other changes. Also, I think that saving "hole" for "I kiss the wall's hole, not your lips at all" makes that punchline stronger.

    The two possibilities I've come up with for that couplet so far are

    And such a wall, as I do you assure,
    That featured a crannied hole or fissure.

    (That second line isn't iambic pentameter, and "fissure" is not as funny a word to me as some others, but it's ten syllables.)

    And such a wall, as fate would have it hap,
    That had in it a crannied hole or gap.

    (I mean, I'm no Shakespeare, obviously. But I think it sort of works with the style of the other Rude Mechanical speeches. And it's IP.)

    I consider myself something of a Shakespeare super-fan, but I also cut his scripts down radically for my classroom use, which at times means rearranging lines to preserve verse structure, and feel free to cast girls in any of the roles, sometimes changing the characters' gender, name, and associated language, sometimes not. I've even been known to encourage the actors to ad lib a little bit. So an enthusiast, but not a purist.

    (Throwing down the gauntlet, with supernatural echo:) I look forward to hearing from others who DARE (dare dare) to RE-WRITE (write write) SHAKESPEARE (peer peer).

    Cora Turlish
    Metuchen NJ

  • 5.  RE: Midsummer -- alternate language for the Wall speech

    Posted 06-16-2020 04:24
    "Chink" is not a slur in this context, it is a cue for the actor playing Wall to make the ok sign so Bottom can grab his hand and look through.. "thanks courteous wall"  make Blink the operative word and with bottom doing the physical gag of looking through the hand the students wont be set up to laugh at "chink"....however if the actor makes Chink the operative word then...there's your problem.


  • 6.  RE: Midsummer -- alternate language for the Wall speech

    Posted 06-17-2020 08:09
    This is exactly what I was thinking. I never thought it was anything racially insensitive  in the least when I directed it. 
    Ms. Hillman
    Director of the CAPA Program/Acting Teacher
    Churchill High School
    Livonia, MI

  • 7.  RE: Midsummer -- alternate language for the Wall speech

    Posted 06-12-2020 17:25
    Language is a fluid, living entity. It changes, moves, morphs and grows and dies just like any living thing. But when it comes to a language piece then teach the language in which it was written or don't do it. Or somehow change it and modernize the whole thing. Shakespeare's Play within the play is the old Greek story and he changed it to fit his modern times. A chink means a hole. It has always meant a hole. It still means a hole. There is a hole in the wall. Use hole if you're uncomfortable.

  • 8.  RE: Midsummer -- alternate language for the Wall speech

    Posted 06-13-2020 08:09
    By your own statement, Shakespeare changed the story "to fit his modern times".  What Cora is suggesting is just that.

    Yes, a chink is a hole.  But it is also now a racist term.  If hearing that term takes an audience member out of the moment that I'm trying to create onstage, then that is bad for my production.  It creates bad theater.  People on this forum regularly ask the licensing companies for permission to change language and curse words that their community will find offensive.  This is no different.  Doing so is being sensitive to the needs of my audience and valuing that (as well as valuing the impact of my production) over any perceived loyalty to the text (which given the various editions & folios, etc, has never really existed for Shakespeare.)

    Christopher Sheldon
    Performing Arts Teacher
    Bancroft School
    Worcester MA

  • 9.  RE: Midsummer -- alternate language for the Wall speech

    Posted 06-14-2020 14:54
    It works with the text to replace it with "hole". The only awkward moment would be "That had in it a crannied hole or chink" in which case, maybe change it to "That had in it a crannied notch or hole". Honestly, I read the article the OP referenced a while ago and "chink" threw me and would not have thought to change it. Christopher makes a great point, though. If it is something that will pull audience members from the moment, then it's worth changing. 

    Patrick McGuire
    Drama Director
    Round Lake High School
    Round Lake, IL

  • 10.  RE: Midsummer -- alternate language for the Wall speech

    Posted 06-14-2020 18:13

    Obviously, it's Shakespeare, so you're free to change anything you like. Replacing it with hole is fine. 

    I must confess this change flummoxes me, much as the Senator who was criticized for using the word "niggardly." In this instance, the word does not refer to an ethnic slur, and has a completely different meaning. Words only have meaning in context with other words. No one would listen to the speech in Midsummer and think that he meant any type of racist slur by it. 

    Simply because a word sounds similar to a slur, should it be excised? I'm not sure I have the answer to that. But do you think people would be offended by the following words or phrases?

    --Flame retardant

    --Crippled aircraft

    --Jack Frost nipping at your nose


    Even though these words sound similar to slurs, in context it's obvious they're not being used as slurs. 

    Just because someone's offended, doesn't mean they're right. And I say that in context of audience members trying to shut down a play of mine because they were offended that it contained a same sex relationship. Those people were offended, but they weren't right. 

    I don't know how this should play out, but I have concerns about us changing language because we're afraid someone might misunderstand a word. There are LOTS of words that can cause misunderstandings, and I would hate to think we could be fired because an audience member misconstrues something as offensive. We'll never be able to anticipate all the words that someone could misunderstand in the audience. 

    Don Zolidis
    Austin TX

  • 11.  RE: Midsummer -- alternate language for the Wall speech

    Posted 06-14-2020 22:30

    The Oxford definition of chink is "a narrow opening or crack."

    Every time I've directed Midsummer, the actor playing Wall popped out a sideways peace or victory sign on the word "chink," then the lovers looked through those spread fingers to see each other.

    I've never had anyone question the word, even in a school that had quite a few students who had been adopted as children from China.  Maybe that was because chink means "a narrow opening or crack", except when it is being used as a racial slur.

    If students question the word in the classroom, it can be a teachable moment.  No, we never call a person who might be of Chinese descent a "chink" because it is a derogatory term.  But Shakespeare was using the word in its dictionary meaning.

    I never changed "ass" to "donkey" either.


    C. J. Breland
    Retired Theatre Arts Educator
    Asheville NC

  • 12.  RE: Midsummer -- alternate language for the Wall speech

    Posted 06-14-2020 22:19
    Points all well taken, however - my grandfather loved to go coon hunting.   "God save the Queen" is still an innocuous blessing.  There are other examples, and as our slang shifts and morphs there will inevitably be more and different opportunities to offend someone with a word that has historically been inoffensive.  So, too, will some words that have a current slang connotation lose their offensive impact.  "Kraut" will one day just mean a cabbage dish, and "nip" is no longer a common pejorative in the mainstream.  We have to weigh the intensity of the potential offense, how many audience members will genuinely be offended despite the context of the word in the scene, and of course, the "Really?  You're getting upset about THAT?!" factor.

    Rod James
    Theatre Technical Director
    North Forney High Sbchool

  • 13.  RE: Midsummer -- alternate language for the Wall speech

    Posted 06-15-2020 10:23

    There are lots of lines in A Midsummer Night's Dream that could be upsetting to an audience. But I have directed it four times and never had a complaint. The high school students love all the double meanings. I think it is fun for them to be able to laugh about sex.

    The first time I directed A Midsummer Night's Dream, the student playing Tom Snout (Wall) asked me about the following lines:


    O wall, full often hast thou heard my moans,
    For parting my fair Pyramus and me!
    My cherry lips have often kiss'd thy stones,
    Thy stones with lime and hair knit up in thee.

    He wondered if the term "cherry lips" and "stones with lime and hair knit up in thee" might be referring to the parts of the human body. I said that makes sense to me with all the other double entrendres in the script. He then started to break down all of them, including the word chink. For example:


    O kiss me through the hole of this vile wall!


    I kiss the wall's hole, not your lips at all.

    The word chink is used 5 times in the script. Once in Act 3 Scene 1 as the actors rehearse the play and four times during the Act 5 in the Pyramus and Thisbe play. I feel confident the word is used as double entendre, just as the word ass seems to be joke, especially when you consider that Bottom is turned into a donkey.

    Several years ago, I was at a workshop led by Michael Sexton, director of The Shakespeare Society at the Public Theatre. The conversation let to a discussion of the word ass in A Midsummer Night's Dream. I was led to believe that ass and bottom probably didn't mean the same thing when the play was written. I find that hard to believe today, but words change in meaning. Today, the mix of those two words makes the play even funnier to me. Bottom seems to be a fool. The word ass seems like a similar meaning to the word fool. Puck turns Bottom into an Ass. As Quince says, "Bless thee, Bottom! Bless thee! Thou art translated." I just love that Bottom as been "translated" into an "Asshead."

    The best part about Shakespeare is that it is not copyright protected. You can do anything you want with the script. If the word chink will be a problem for your audience, change it

    That being said, the more Shakespeare I direct, the less I change. It is beautifully written. It takes work, but you can make it relate to your audience.

    While I have never had any complaints about my productions of A Midsummer Night's Dream, I have had several complaints about the word ass in Peter Pan. I think it is hysterical, but it always makes me wonder if my directing was not as good for Peter Pan. Or simply … maybe A Midsummer Night's Dream is the better play.

    And finally, Shakespeare gives you the ultimate defense to use with Puck's last monologue:

    If we shadows have offended,
    Think but this, and all is mended,
    That you have but slumber'd here
    While these visions did appear.
    And this weak and idle theme,
    No more yielding but a dream,
    Gentles, do not reprehend:
    if you pardon, we will mend:
    And, as I am an honest Puck,
    If we have unearned luck
    Now to 'scape the serpent's tongue,
    We will make amends ere long;
    Else the Puck a liar call;
    So, good night unto you all.
    Give me your hands, if we be friends,
    And Robin shall restore amends.

    David Tate Hastings
    Theatre Educator
    Olathe South High School
    Thespian Troupe #5006

  • 14.  RE: Midsummer -- alternate language for the Wall speech

    Posted 06-15-2020 21:36

    Ok, I have a lot to say, so I'm going to write two posts, one addressing the WHY of the language change, and one addressing the HOW. This is the WHY post, and it's long. It references several of the responses that have been made so far, so if you haven't read the whole thread you might  miss some of the context.

    The original article I linked to was about how white theater practitioners and especially all-white creative teams could make the rehearsal room more welcoming to non-white performers. That's my main concern here; in my situation the rehearsal room is also a classroom of 8th graders, required to be there – for some of them, it may be the only rehearsal room they'll ever be in. I hear what Don Zolidis is saying about words that sound like slurs, but there's no softening ending at work here -- it's the same word. (And, as I side note, I have zero concern about safeguarding the use of "niggardly" – why, as a white person, use that word when you can use another?) Yes, in the case of "chink," Shakespeare's meaning is different, and completely unrelated to the meaning of the slur, but it sounds exactly the same, not similar, even the same part of speech, and no amount of explaining the meaning or intent changes that, and neither does pantomime. After reading CJ's post, I think I'd like to start a separate thread about how we handle 'teachable moments' related to racially-charged language or images, but in this situation, I'm not comfortable with what I might be teaching by first explaining the racist use of the word to students who might not be familiar with it, including students from China, and then saying we're going to continue to use it anyway because we don't mean it THAT way.

    In the rehearsal room, it's not just hearing it once, and possibly being taken out of the play, although that's relevant too. (And since my students will be performing it for their peers, it's certainly possible there will be audience members who are struck by the word and don't understand its context. Not that the performances I direct aren't all completely enthralling.) It's asking two actors to say that word in front of their parents and friends. It's my encouraging the actor playing Bottom to really project and ham it up when saying, "Show me thy chink!" Repeating that multiple times, because of the need to rehearse the physical business involved in that section. And OK, yes, let's think about how it looks in performance. There's an actor in a Wall costume, who sticks out their hand after Bottom's line, showing more of themselves at that cue. Even if the actor isn't Chinese or of Chinese descent (and I don't think I've ever cast it that way), I don't think it's a great look, perhaps especially with my multiracial and very diverse cast, but maybe not so especially. Just because I've never heard any of my students use the word outside of the script doesn't mean they're not doing so, or that I'm not making some of them uncomfortable, or that some of them may feel emboldened to make their own related jokes.

    I'm not afraid of getting fired, at least not because of this, and I don't think theater should be inoffensive. I'm completely comfortable leading middle schoolers in parsing Shakespeare's references to testicles and holes, and for me "Midsummer" would not be the same without the Bottom/Ass/Donkey trio. I love teaching middle school and anticipate those snickers. But when they snicker at "chink," it's different.  When offensiveness has a racial component, one that punches down in the power structure, I want to consider it very carefully, and not dismiss concerns simply by saying "that's not the intent" or justify my choices with tradition, entertainment value, or fairy magic. And as a white director, I want to hold myself to a higher standard than "nobody complained."

    It may sound to some of you as if I should just stop using "Midsummer," and maybe I will someday, but at this point for me the pros outweigh the cons, especially when I'm fine with changing out this word. When I made my original post, I wasn't consciously trying to prompt this discussion – I was just seeing if anyone else had a clever, or even not-so-clever, language substitute. But I think this discussion is really valuable -- I've found it useful to clarify my own thoughts about it, and in some ways prompting this discussion might make a bigger difference than anything that I do at my own school.

    I've been teaching and directing "Midsummer" with 8th graders every year for probably 15 years or so, and it took reading this article, written by a person of color, for me to really commit to making a change. I get the defensive reactions about what we may have done in the past. We've got a lot to think about when teaching and directing. There are other things in my directing and teaching past that make me cringe when I look back. I should and hope to consider bigger changes to my teaching related to the racial issues that are in the forefront at this moment. But I invite you to consider making this small change in the future, or mentioning the issue when you're adjacent to or involved in a production in the future. As many of you have pointed out, there's a freedom to directing Shakespeare that for many of us is part of the appeal. There are other words we can use, so let's use them.

    Cora Turlish
    Metuchen NJ

  • 15.  RE: Midsummer -- alternate language for the Wall speech

    Posted 06-16-2020 22:07
    Just use "crack" and be done with it.  It scans, is synonymous,  and offers more obvious and potentially vulgar connotations.

    Rod James
    Theatre Technical Director
    North Forney High School