Spare a thought for William Shakespeare on his 444th birthday on Wednesday.

Centuries after his death the Bard's plays are still constantly performed but, as the original texts become less accessible to a generation who have little or no knowledge of the classics, the ongoing row between the purists and the modernisers continues.

With theatre companies seeking ever more inventive ways to make Shakepeare relevant to modern audiences, the traditionalists become more entrenched in their opinion that messing with England's greatest playwright amounts to a level of dumbing down that verges on literary vandalism.

They will no doubt react with predictable fury at the liberties taken with the Bard's words by Dorset author and satirist Martin Baum in his new book To Be Or Not To Be, Innit.

Subtitled: A Yoof-Speak Guide To Shakespeare, it attempts to present the plays of the great dramatist in a style that can not only be readily understood but also stand as entertainment in their own right.

It delivers digests of Shakepeare classics reworked and with guaranteed to annoy titles like Romeo and His Fit Bitch Jools, Two Geezas of Verona, Macbeff and Much Ado About Sod All.

Martin, who lives in Verwood says he knows that his book will anger the purists but insists that that his abridgement of 15 of Shakepeare's plays stays true to the original format.

They retain, he says, "...all the important sexist, duplicitous, cross-dressing and violent moments that made William Shakespeare well wicked."

Written in what Martin describes as "the language of the street" but others may simply see as cod Ali G, the book tries to cut to the essence of the plays in question.

Take his opening of what he calls All's Sweet that Ends Sweet, Innit.

"Helena was de orphaned bitch of de well famous quack doctor who with de geeza called Bertram and his Countess Muvva, had been living in de Rossillion turf forever..."

You can almost hear the howls of protest but Martin argues that his translation works on a number of levels: as a satire aimed at an adult audience familiar with Ali G and Catherine Tate and also as an introduction to Shakespeare for schoolchildren.

"My 13-year-old son Josh certainly enjoyed it and so did his schoolfriends," he told me, adding that the youngsters at the Emmanuel Middle School at Verwood found it an entertaining and easily understandable introduction to Shakespeare.

Martin admits he originally wrote the book as a satirical spoof aimed a 20- to 40-year-old age group but says he has now realised that there is a potential for a younger readership.

"I'm not on a crusade or anything but if it can help generate an interest in Shakespeare I can't see that it's a bad thing.

"I know it will rankle with the intellectuals. I gave it to one who told me that they felt guilty that they found it funny."

Martin say believes that popular culture can serve as a door-opener to the classics though the example he chooses hardly does a great deal for his street cred.

"When I went to see Cliff Richard doing Heathcliffe I had never read Wuthering Heights but seeing that show gave me an interest in the story and made me want to read the Bronte book."

But will his book work for Shakespeare? Personally I'm doubtful that such phrases as "de geezas were well miffed with Falstaff" or, in the case of Richard III: "...nobody knew the bloodfirsty minger like de bitch what gave birth to him" are likely prove particularly edifying and at times Martin's yoof-speak seems more impenetrable than the original First Folio. What do you think though?

  • To Be Or Not To Be, Innit by Martin Baum published by Bright Pen at £4.99