Updating the Style, Keeping the Substance

Translating an archaic script, as previously discussed, is time consuming and requires a bit of effort, but it’s not terribly difficult. The translation that does become a challenge is finding modern idioms, of cultural elements, that are analogous to those appearing in a historic script. The meaning needs to be similar, but the issues that resonate in one period often don’t a few centuries later.

Mankind presents this most particularly in the scene where the Vices try to re-style his jacket into something more up-to-date. Making him an absurdly short coat is only mildly funny today: unless you spend a lot of time on historic costume, you probably won’t realise that ultra-short jackets were the cutting edge of trendiness in the late fifteenth century. For men, the more wealthy and ostentatiously stylish you were, the shorter your jacket was. The trend-setters of the day would have been the younger gentlemen of the court, some of whom may not have come from old, well-established families, and who would be anxious to prove that they could fit in- what might snobbishly be referred to as “new money” today. The playwright of Mankind was parodying both the short style of coats, and also the sort of men who might wear them.

Simply cutting up Mankind’s coat doesn’t mean as much today, though, so we looked for an analogous stylistic language. What is considered trendy today, that might also be singled out for a bit of gentle teasing? What symbolises youth and ambition? Thus were born the hipster Vices. “Hipster” may be a bit difficult to define, but it’s written about as a subculture of young, relatively affluent people who consider themselves nonconformists (but are often noted to do so in the same way as one another), and are criticised for being pretentious; they strive to have a down-market, vintage look but have no aversion to the newest technology.

We didn’t choose this style to be critical of those who embrace it, but because it seemed a good, easily identifiable modern analogy to the ostentatiously trend-setting courtiers of the late medieval period, something that is sufficiently established as a culture/style but also comes in for castigation by others. It also seems to be defined from the outside: not many whom others might consider “hipsters” would self-identify as such, rather like Nought, who worries that he “might well be called a fop”, when clearly he is something of a dandy. And because the hipster style is quite identifiable, it seems likely that it will end up being very dated and of our particular era, much like the short jackets of the era in which Mankind was written.

 

There are always some imperfections in trying to update a concept which is particularly tied to a time and place, but we think that this one makes a lot of sense. It helps ground Mankind in the world of today as much as that of the past, reminding us that people don’t really change that much, and the world of the Middle Ages is not entirely unlike our own.

 

 

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