Bard in the '80's

THIS isn't the first time someone has attempted to make Shakespeare's plays more appealing to the young. Charles and Mary Lamb tried in 1807, when they published prose versions of 20 of the Bard's plays, called ''Tales from Shakespeare.''

But the new effort by Shakespearean scholar A.L. Rowse takes a different tack: seeking to interest the young by modernizing the words in the actual plays. The attempt is to make them easier to read and stage; the first six revisions have just been released.

This comes at a time of increasing popularization of cultural efforts. Movies , TV, and books are often geared down to a less-demanding, and less-rewarding, level. It is to be hoped that the goal of increasing public interest in the rich tapestry of Shakespeare's plays is achieved. And that people coming in contact with the revisions would then burrow into the original.

Shakespeare's plays feature not only subtleties of character but glittering phrases - even when the issue is words themselves. '' 'Zounds! I was never so bethump'd with words . . .'' (''King John''), and, ''A fine volley of words, gentlemen, and quickly shot off'' (''The Two Gentlemen of Verona'').

To change Shakespeare's words is to alter the beauty of their usage - and, often, the meaning. For tomorrow's generation not to know the plays in their original fullness would be a pity.

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