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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: January ::
Re: Accents English
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0094  Thursday, 17 January 2002

[1]     From:   David Lindley <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 16 Jan 2002 15:05:45 GMT0BST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0086 Re: Accents English

[2]     From:   Sam Small <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 16 Jan 2002 16:59:29 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0086 Re: Accents English

[3]     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 16 Jan 2002 15:50:57 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0086 Re: Accents English

[4]     From:   Geralyn Horton <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 16 Jan 2002 14:58:58 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0056 Accents English

[5]     From:   John V. Knapp <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 16 Jan 2002 14:51:50 -0600 (CST)
        Subj:   Response to Re: SHK 13.0086 Re: Accents English


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Lindley <
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Date:           Wednesday, 16 Jan 2002 15:05:45 GMT0BST
Subject: 13.0086 Re: Accents English
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0086 Re: Accents English

Two little thoughts on this question.

First: in a reading group in the School of English last night we were
reading scenes from Middleton 'The Witch', and discussed briefly the
'accent' that a character like Gasparo, described as a 'servant' to
Antonio might use.  In many productions of Shakespeare any character
described as a 'servant' is given to speak in a voice marked as 'lower
class' - which in contemporary England, frequently means 'regional' (a
collocation which is precisely what Barry Rutter resists in his Northern
Broadsides company, already mentioned in this thread.) Maria in Twelfth
Night a frequent example.  But the correlation of class and accent in
such productions might perhaps be mistaken in any number of ways - it
might, for example:
a) falsely represent the social class structure of Early Modern England;
b) misrepresent the function of accent as a class marker in EME.

The question is, I think, how 'accent' is to be distinguished from other
markers of lower class speech - lexis, syntax etc. And then, what the
relationship is/was between regional accent and perceptions of class.
I'm sure people have worked on this - and would be interested to know
more.

But one particular example which happens to have interested me is the
speech of Caliban in The Tempest, and the kinds of voice that actors
have chosen.  Timothy Walker, in the Leeds production of 1999 assumed
that, since Caliban had been taught to speak by Ferdinand and Miranda,
he spoke with their 'upper-class' accent, making a powerful, and
provocative constrast with the regionally marked accents of Stephano and
Trinculo.

The other thing - of which I know virtually nothing  - is how the
various cultural associations of regional and class accents in England
relate (or don't) to the perception of such markers in US speech, and
therefore how this translates into accent choice in US productions.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sam Small <
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Date:           Wednesday, 16 Jan 2002 16:59:29 -0000
Subject: 13.0086 Re: Accents English
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0086 Re: Accents English

My thanks to Thomas Larque and others for pointing out "Northern
Broadsides".  Very interesting.  I looked up their website
http://www.northern-broadsides.co.uk/ and read quite a lot but not all.
Barrie Rutter seems quite the firebrand echoing many gripes I have with
current Shakespearian performance.  It would be positively awful to
pre-judge the man but isn't there just a touch of inverse snobbery
here?  I know several Yorkshiremen (and women) and to believe everything
they said would not only make Shakespeare a native of Yorkshire but
every artist, poet, engineer and inventor that ever lived!   I get
similar chauvinism from intellectual Scotsmen.  Does Mr Rutter not value
the huge range of English Midland accents, in which Shakespeare
certainly spoke, or the dozen or so of Southern English accents that at
present go wanting in the credibility stakes?  I also noticed on the
website - especially in the press reviews - that accents were not
mentioned at all!  "Northern voice" was as near as anyone would dare.
Dear, dear - 'accents' is still the most taboo subject in English
society.

Graham Hall and Gabriel Egan refute my statement that Reith "invented"
RP in the late 50s.  I remember seeing a black and white TV interview
with the testy gentleman not long ago when he said with his own sonorous
tone that he had instigated a change in the accent of newsreaders and
presenters.  You argue with John Reith's spirit, I will not.  What you
are misunderstanding is that Reith effectively redefined RP as the
standard BBC broadcasting accent.  In short, what we know today as RP is
his invention.  It has become, through the monopoly of the BBC, the
default actor's accent.  So established is this rootless, bloodless,
emotionless accent that I have heard owners of it say "But I haven't got
an accent!".  Oh dear, what a mess!

SAM SMALL

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Wednesday, 16 Jan 2002 15:50:57 -0500
Subject: 13.0086 Re: Accents English
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0086 Re: Accents English

Barrie Rutter, the founding director of Northern Broadsides, could
probably be accused of the kind of phonetic chauvinism with which
Gabriel Egan taxes Sam Small: he's very proud of his dockside origins in
'Ull-and of his transit to featured actor at the RSC and National by way
of membership in the cathedral choir and enrollment in the cathedral
school.  But he also defends his productions of Shakespeare and other
classic texts in northern accents by claiming for broad Yorks/Lancs
speech a level of phonic energy not achieved by RP (or any other further
southern accents): more energetic consonants, shorter but more fully
voiced vowels.  The idea arose in conversations with his friend and
mentor Tony Harrison, and both men believe that the theatrical speech of
Shakespeare's time had similar characteristics.  I have no idea whether
it has any basis in fact, though I do know that my apostrophe above
conveys no adequate sense of the glottal blast-off and uvular surge
Barrie gives his pronunciation of the name of his home town.  (Would it
be possible to hook a bunch of actors speaking the same speech in
different voices up to an oscillograph and see whether particular
accents generated different levels of energy?)  The energy may just be
Barrie's own, of course.  If you are interested in learning more, a
lively interview by Simon Hattenstone for the Guardian is posted (under
"Rutter") on the company's website,
http://www.northern-broadsides.co.uk.  And anybody who will be in
Halifax and other parts after March 14 can look forward to the upcoming
*Macbeth*.

Dave Evett

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Geralyn Horton <
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Date:           Wednesday, 16 Jan 2002 14:58:58 -0500
Subject: 13.0056 Accents English
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0056 Accents English

>I have strong feelings on this subject.  There's no
>particulary reason why a producer-- or anyone-- should aim
>to please me, but I'll state my prejudices anyway.

To my ear, contemporary English productions of Shakespeare sound as if
the standard is "mid-Atlantic" rather than RP.  This makes sense, given
that many tour or are tourist attractions.  Any accent that is
unfamiliar to the listener requires some minutes of work to be de-coded,
during which important bits of information will be lost.  International
"classic" or "costume" films have long used Mid-Atlanic English, so
audiences are used to listening to it.

Meaning, relationship and word-music are most important.  Open vowels
aid projection and crisp consonants preserve clarity during rapid
speech: rapid speech is better than slow as the norm for wordy texts.

Dialects add color.  Historical or sociological accuracy isn't very
important when choosing a dialect for a character. The first
consideration should be whether the audience will understand the
denotions of the words spoken in dialect, the second whether the dialect
helps or hinders the audience in "placing" the character in the web of
relationships with other characters. Obviously, but a rule often often
violated, siblings should speak the same dialect unless they were
separated at birth. Native/foreign, city/country, upper/lower -- such
distinctions are colorful, but it is better to ignore them than to apply
them inconsistently.

I very much enjoyed the range of dialects in the "cosmopolitan"
production of MOV at the New Globe in London.  Some actors spoke various
flavors of Engish from around the Empire, but all were clear and most
were musical, and none distorted the patterns of sound and sense in
their lines.

I've also enjoyed Scots-flavored Shakespeare, and even a Southern-USA
one.

But I've never understood why, in an English translation of a French
theatre classic, the servants, whether city or country folk, speak
Cockney.

Geralyn Horton
http://www.stagepage.org

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[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John V. Knapp <
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Date:           Wednesday, 16 Jan 2002 14:51:50 -0600 (CST)
Subject: Re: SHK 13.0086 Re: Accents English
Comment:        Response to Re: SHK 13.0086 Re: Accents English

Arthur --

For those Americans (or anyone else) NOT familiar with Tony Harrison's
poem, can you provide a cite?

Cheers,
JVK

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