Let me tell you a story. Do you remember Ugo Foscolo and his Salamini/Little Sausages? Do you remember as both I and my friend Dave in the comments wondered how on earth could he have made such a tragedy-killing blunder?
Well, it may be that I know just how…
Back in May, I added things to Shakespeare in Words – a small prologue featuring Cassius, Brutus and the dazzling exchange about the nachleben of Caesar’s murder, and right after that an exchange between the Chorus and Shakespeare’s disembodied voice, discussing the similarities between the solemn deed in Rome and last summer’s botched coup in Turkey…
Which is why, when the Chorus mentions it, Shakespeare exclaims something along the lines of “Why, bringing down the Grand Turk? Bold of them.” And all is well in English, right? The corresponding Italian period nickname for the Ottoman Sultan, though, is Gran Turco – which reads exactly like granturco – or, alas, maize.
How I hadn’t noticed, I have to wonder – but I was blissfully oblivious until the first reading with the company, when the actor taking on Shakespeare’s voice even read it as grano turco: “Why, bringing down the maize?”
Everybody blinked, and… “No, no, no,” I cut in laughing. “Not grano turco, Gran Turco! The Sultan, you know.”
“Abbattere il Gran Turco?” our Shakespeare repeated – and that’s when it dawned on me.
“This is dangerous, isn’t it?” I asked amidst the polite sniggering.
“Very,” everyone chorused – and there was merriment.
Because the fact is that Gran Turco and granturco sound exactly the same, and the audience can’t see the two words and the capital letters – and frankly, even if they could, how many would think not of Ottoman rulers deposed, but of a messy harvest?
So yes, Foscolo and his Sausages. Well, perhaps not quite, because I changed the Grand Turk into a Sultan, and all went well – but still. I still wonder why the Great Ugo failed or refused to address the Salamini – but I can vouch that Maize and Sausages are perfectly able to fly under the radar, and you never know until you hear them spoken by someone else.
After that, it’s all a matter of avoiding trouble when you hear it.