In fervent defence of Te Reo being used in pop-up Shakespeare’s ‘Midsummer’s Dream’


Some are not happy…

Shakespeare director scorns reo Māori objectors
The director of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Auckland’s Pop Up Globe theatre has rubbished claims that adding te reo “bastardises” Shakespeare.

The production, which features two actors playing ‘fairies’ who speak te reo Māori, first opened last month.

About 20 percent of the show’s dialogue is in te reo Māori, translated by Pierre Lyndon. Te Kohe Tuhaka helped to direct the Māori language components of the play.

In one review sent directly to the Pop Up Globe, one punter said the use of te reo Māori bastardised what made Shakespeare unique.

Another audience member said it was not appropriate to use a language so few audience members could understand.

…I was privileged enough to see the opening night of this incredible performance, and I said at the time…

the way they turned the supernatural elements of Puck and Oberon into Māori fairies who only spoke Māori for the entire play was a joyful creation that would have had Don Brash screaming.

…but on seeing this ridiculous backlash, I feel there demands a fervent defence of Te Reo being used here.

Beside the creative licence any artist should always feel they have, beyond the issues of Te Reo being an offical language, beyond the current attack on Te Reo for politically cultural reasons – beyond all that, is the fact that it was an inspired artistic and creative choice that screams genius and demands a round of applause.

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The two actors who took on Puck and Oberon knew what they had to do, as every Shakespearean actor knows, they have to act past the dense language to create meaning and drama through the bards incredible use of words.

Most people have little idea what Shakespeare means when simply reading it, as most people have no idea what Māori means, but the Shakespearean actors job is to act through that to create that meaning. That was a challenge that the actors were up to and they created the meaning perfectly even though I can’t speak a lick of Te Reo.

It was a challenging, brave and clever piece of theatre and that some felt culturally intimidated enough to complain shows just how far they are outside the comfort zone of art like this.

If you honestly had  problem with the Te Reo spoken during this perforce, perhaps you need to have a good hard look at yourself.

In the final words of Puck…

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.


  1. Fully endorse the comments in this blog and would add….The English language so rich in its opportunities for expression, and Shakespeare added so much that is indisputable. English language and drama teachers and students of this wonderfully expressive language cannot but be influenced by the way Shakespeare is presented by this amazingly inspired Pop Up Globe. Anyone seeing the productions will carry the images for the rest of their lives and that is especially important for many young people who may have had their impression of Shakespeare tainted by indifferent teaching. Bright inquisitive young people travel and discuss various things and when Shakespeare is mentioned those privileged to have seen Pop Up Globe will have the confidence to join in and talk confidently and enthusiastically about what they have seen. Make no mistake about it.

  2. That’s all a bit silly. The fact is, Shakespeare’s plays were mostly old stories retold for the Elizabethan age. Adding Te Reo for the contemporary New Zealand audience is totally in keeping with the methods of the Bard.

    • Funnily enough where you mention Russian, there’s a book I’ve been meaning to pick up for a while now written by Clare Asquith, the wife of a British diplomat in Cold War Moscow. Watching a clumsily translated Soviet adaptation of one of his plays, she turned back to the originals and suggested that Shakespeare was in fact often using his plays to offer a subversive defence of English Catholicism and its underground status in Elizabethan England.

      This isn’t the best review I’ve seen, but I can’t find the one which explained it well right now

      The point of all this is that as one great scholar of medieval English literature pointed out, one translates the ideas, not the words. And so a well worn work can turn out to reveal more depth in translation, ideas more apparent to other cultures than that which produced it.

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