Jeremy Paxman is wrong in saying that French is a ‘useless’ language and that the nation’s achievements are ‘long past’.
Such drivel coming from the mouth of a man who considers himself part of the knowledgeable elite is contemptible. France is our distinguished neighbour and has a great history of literary and cultural achievement to compete with the best in the world. You wouldn’t hear such disparaging comments coming from a cultured Frenchman about the English language and its usefulness.
To illustrate this point, the four million daily passengers on the Paris metro have been given a chance to brush up their Shakespeare with quotations in English on display in all stations and most trains to mark the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death. Lines from Comme Il Vous Plaira (As You Like It) and eight other works adorn the walls of the 386 stations and hundreds of carriages.
The two-week display is the biggest celebration of an English language author since the metro began exhibiting French and foreign poetry two decades ago. The yellow and red posters drew curious glances from commuters in jammed carriages last week.
The only original Shakespeare quotation known to most French-speakers is ‘to be or not to be’ although many are hard-pushed to name Hamlet as the source. Now hot-blooded Parisians can extend their knowledge of the tragedy with ‘give me that man that is not passion’s slave and I will wear him in my heart’s core’. The French translation appears in smaller type below the original.
The underground tribute to Shakespeare will be followed by an unprecedented homage by the Comédie-Française, also known as La maison de Molière, the nation’s grandest troupe. On April 23, the anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, it will stage a performance of Romeo and Juliet.
In view of the foregoing, I suggest that Jeremy Paxman takes a refresher course at one of our famous universities to freshen up on the usefulness of the French language.