Episode #2: Deciphering Shakespeare

We got over our technical issues of earlier this month and are pleased to bring you a voice other than Patrick’s in Episode #2 of Categorically Heel.

In this episode we explore something that ought to be obvious to everyone: the importance of literacy. Did you know that there are approximately 370,000 Canadians who do not have basic literacy skills? Imagine, not being able to recognize your own name written on paper.

Later in the show, we sit down with Donald Belliveau, a Vancouver-based app developer who is leveraging the power of today’s technology to give us lay people a glimpse into the soul of one of arguably the greatest British playwright of all-time: William Shakespeare.

If you haven’t listened to the show yet, you can find it here.

The Show Notes

Thou art not Donald Belliveau.

In our Main Event, we spoke with Vancouver iOS developer Donald Belliveau. He has completed working on an app that will allow people to read Shakespeare’s words — both the original and as they would be uttered today.

Belliveau states that the lack of interest in classical literature from young people today is the disconnect between the flowery language in Shakespeare’s time and the evolution of the English language to the way it’s written today. Belliveau has completed work on one of the works in Shakespeare’s portfolio. Modern Macbeth is the translation for anyone not familiar with Elizabethan English. You can look for Modern Macbeth in the Apple App Store in the coming weeks.

Why Macbeth? Belliveau cites that it is one of Shakespeare’s shorter tragedies and one that is widely studied in Canadian classrooms. It also happens to be his favourite (and Patrick’s as well).

He also credits Shakespeare as being the father of modern entertainment. He argues that much of what we see on television and film is, in one way or another, inspired by the works of William Shakespeare. Even some of the expressions we use today (“blood on our hands”, “in a pickle”, as a couple of examples) were coined by Shakespeare himself.

No episode of Categorically Heel is complete without a mention of political lessons, and Belliveau sees a lot of parallels between Macbeth and the madness that is this real-life era of Donald Trump. He also suggests that you check out the video from Shakespeare in the Park and their rendition of King Lear. Last summer they did the production where Donald Trump was King Lear, and it was highly controversial. We weren’t able to find the 2017 version of it, but you can check out the 2013 production on YouTube. 

We’ll have a link to the app once it becomes available to the general public.

You can contact Donald Belliveau on Facebook and Twitter here.

Adult Basic Literacy

Patrick also recalls a time when he was approached by an instructor at Douglas College to bring awareness to the fact that the college was planning to cut its adult basic literacy programs. This would have eliminated a program that was being taken advantage of by over a dozen students.

Canada boasts a 99% basic literacy rate, which, believe it or not is the same rate of literacy as North Korea. Korean is a very scientific language, and the prominence of Hangul, the Korean written alphabet, has made it easier for Koreans, both North and South, to communicate.

There are many definitions of literacy, but the one we feel is all-encompassing is the one cited in the January, 2013 report commissioned by the Cambridge Assessment, which reads:

We believe literacy is the ability to read, write, speak and listen well. A literate person is able to communicate effectively with others and to understand written information.’

How does Canada stack up? Well, there are a number of reports which examine literacy rates in Canada. One which we pulled from was the Conference Board of Canada. It’s report concluded that 48 per cent of Canadians had inadequate literacy skills. In other words, they may be functionally literate, but not at an age-appropriate level.

One of the issues that has been identified, particularly through the schools in British Columbia, was that much of the funding allocated to literacy programs are not being directed to those who need it most, Instead, much of that funding is going to ESL students who are perfectly literate in their native language, travelling to Canada to pickup English as a second language.

The ESL industry is a $674-million industry in Canada. Some of that money comes directly from the federal-provincial transfers that are meant to benefit Canadians with literacy challenges.

It is true that the reading habits of parents influence the desire of children to be well-read. What’s troubling is a report from First Book Canada which concluded that one out of every four Canadian households did not own a single book. On its website, First Book Canada raises the alarm prominently:

Low literacy levels place children at a disadvantage that perpetuates poverty.

Your local library has a number of programs and services available that go beyond books. Everything from computer to financial literacy, from learning modules in the essential skills of today. The Richmond Public Library, for example, has courses on 3D printing and even owns several 3D printers that are available for use by library members. Check out your local library for more information on the services available. It’s your tax dollars, after all, that fund it.

Quotable, from the show

Reading is the activity that exercises the mind and imagination. It provides an escape from reality on one’s own terms.

The Giveaway

In this episode we’re giving away some movie tickets. Check out our Facebook page for more information on the Cineplex giveaway.