"Shrek" anachronisms

James A. Landau JJJRLandau at AOL.COM
Sat Jun 2 23:13:27 UTC 2001

In a message dated 05/29/2001 1:30:32 AM Eastern Daylight Time,
Bapopik at AOL.COM writes:

>  SHREK (www.shrek.com) is an animated feature that takes place somewhere in
> fairytale-land.  That's maybe Europe in King Arthur's time.
>     The characters all use American slang!

In 511 AD in a British scriptorium someone made the following notation:

"Gueith camlann in qua arthur & medraut corruerunt..."

which translates as "The strife of Camlann in which Arthur and Modred

[Source:  British Museum Harleianh MS 3859, folios 190A and B, quoted in
Leslie Alcock _Arthur's Britain: History and Archaeology AD 367-634_  New
York: Penguin Books, 1971]

An inomplete but not implausible chain of evidence says that this Arthur was
the war-leader (NOT the King) of Celtic Britain in the years up to 511, and
also the source on which Medieval troubadours created the "King Arthur and
the Round Table" cycle.

(It is worth speculating whether the real Modred was an ally of Arthur rather
than his enemy.  The quote allows for either possibility but it seems to me
the first is more likely.)

Hence by your description Shrek took place in post-Roman (or non-Roman)
Europe sometime before 511 AD.  If it took place in Celtic Britain, then
Shrek and the other characters would have spoken some mixture of Celtic and
early-post-Empire Latin.  (note that the quotation above is mostly Latin but
starts of with the Celtic "Gueith" rather than a Latin equivalent such as
"bella".)  If it took place in Saxon Britain, or in Saxon Germany, Shrek
would have spoken a variety of Angle or Saxon or Jutish which would be
somewhat different from the Anglo-Saxon of 1066 and definitely a foreign
language from English.

Hence Shrek and his friends and enemies speak some language(s) other than
English, and the dialogue in the movie necessarily represents a translation
into English.  Given that it is a translation, then there is no reason not to
use present-day American slang if it provides an accurate replica of what the
characters are really saying.

What would be a major anachronism would be to have the characters speak in,
say, Shakespearean English.

> Eddie Murphy (who previously did anachronistic black American
> shtick in MULAN) is the jive-talking donkey.

Murphy's Stepin-Fetchit language in _Mulan_ bothered me.  Why should a
Hollywood star with his rep and clout have to accept a minstrel-show role?
However my daughter (who is currently playing music from Shrek on the PC I'm
typing on) claims that Murphy always speaks in a "black accent" and is what
he is famous for.

                         - Jim Landau

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