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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: April ::
Re: Accents
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1105  Tuesday, 23 April 2002

[1]     From:   Lise Olson <
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        Date:   Monday, 22 Apr 2002 16:33:43 +0100
        Subj:   RE: SHK 13.1089 Re: Accents

[2]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Monday, 22 Apr 2002 13:53:40 -0400
        Subj:   Accents

[3]     From:   Don Bloom <
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        Date:   Monday, 22 Apr 2002 13:19:01 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1082 Re: Accents

[4]     From:   David Wallace <
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        Date:   Monday, 22 Apr 2002 19:45:19 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1089 Re: Accents


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Lise Olson <
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Date:           Monday, 22 Apr 2002 16:33:43 +0100
Subject: 13.1089 Re: Accents
Comment:        RE: SHK 13.1089 Re: Accents

Obviously, I did not intend to focus on each specific accent that I
included--only to speak to their relative 'difference' to RP. Mr. Hawkes
is indeed correct with reference to Valleys and Cardiff accents. Both
are lovely to listen to (especially if you enjoy hearing the nuance of
tune and resonance) and eminently suitable for Shakespeare.......in my
humble opinion.

Lise Olson

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Monday, 22 Apr 2002 13:53:40 -0400
Subject:        Accents

L.W.Brantley's brief for the CSA and his fond and foolish hope that
Shakespeare was born in Virginia or Georgia must give way to the far
superior claims of the hills of West Virginia. As all true linguists
know, the protected hills and hollows of the fair Mountain State still
boast natives who speak pure Elizabethan English, untouched by the
ravages of time. Here--only here--can one put on a completely authentic
Shakespearean play and hear the raptures of the Bard's actual language,
spoken just as he would have spoken it!

No mere Virginian or (gasp!) native of Georgia can lay claim to the true
heritage of West Virginia!

Draw when ready, Colonel Brantley!

Ed Taft
Member, WV Elizabethan Club

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Don Bloom <
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Date:           Monday, 22 Apr 2002 13:19:01 -0500
Subject: 13.1082 Re: Accents
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1082 Re: Accents

Well, I certainly whacked the hornet's nest with this one. I suppose
it's what I deserve (now stop that!) -

Ms. Olson seems to have missed the part of my posting where I say that
"those accents are perfectly correct . . . where everyone is speaking in
various non-U accents that are coordinated and meaningful." (Ms. Bonami
seems to have done so also, to my surprise.)

What I keep reminding people to do is to weigh gains and losses. If you
want to stage a play entirely in Brooklynese or Liddiepuddlian (is it
still called that?), it's all right with me, but can you do so and not
lose more than you gain? If Prince Hal and Hotspur sound like rival
street-gang leaders hangin' aroun' 'a block, have you really gained
something?

(Is Ms. Olson serious is suggesting that large numbers of people in
England cannot understand RP and, indeed, no other accent but their
own?)

Mr. Small considers me "entirely wrong," and may be entirely correct in
doing so, but writes with such furious intensity that I cannot figure
out exactly what I was wrong about. He assumes that by "transparent
accent" I meant that of a "BBC newsreader" which is "based on a southern
English accent centered in London and spoken by about 3% of the country
-- and certainly not by the upper classes as Mr. Bloom assumes." Well,
no. I meant an accent that does not call attention to itself except for
comic purposes.  I presume it will vary from situation to situation.

However, the vast majority of Shakespeare's characters are aristocrats
-- for the very good reason that aristocrats could be imagined doing the
things that he wanted to write about and his Elizabethan audience
(evidently) wanted to see done. But they should therefore sound like
aristocrats -- that is, like the idealized nobility who could be
imagined speaking in highly lyrical blank verse, and sometimes in rhymed
couplets. I'm not sure why this should be regarded with distaste.

(I should like to aver, on my oath, that I am not now, nor ever have
been, an English aristocrat. I am not in their pay nor sympathetic to
their aims.)

Cheers to all (even the hornets),
don

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Wallace <
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Date:           Monday, 22 Apr 2002 19:45:19 -0700
Subject: 13.1089 Re: Accents
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1089 Re: Accents

  Graham Bradshaw writes (quoting from George T. Wright's "Shakespeare's
Metrical Art"):

                                             "In the American theater,
> metrical verse is suspect and may be concealed by those who speak it, as
> if it were a shameful relic of a distant age, like anti-Semitism,
> imperialism, melodrama, or patriarchal attitudes toward women."

I can see no way to "conceal" metrical verse. Shakespeare's iambic
pentameter is governed by a pattern of stress in polysyllabic words.
Words of a single syllable may fall in any metrical position. The stress
of polysyllabic words will normally fall in the 2nd, 4th, 6th, 8th and
10th metrical positions. The stress is often inverted following a
syntactic break (period, comma, onset of a verb phrase or prepositional
phrase etc.). This pattern can only be avoided by willfully
mispronouncing words. I see no way to "conceal" it.

> "The unhappy truth is that most American listeners to plays are deaf to
> metrical verse. It is poorly read to us by the parents or teachers or
> actors from whom we first hear it."

This may be so - but it likely because the speaker is not paying
sufficient attention to the "sentence". The metrical pattern of the
"line" takes care of itself. The pattern of stress is unavoidable.

>                      "Few American theater companies relish the
> verse; actors, like teachers, are more deeply stirred by other elements
> in Shakespeare's dramaturgy than by the movement, the sweep, the
> strength, the drama of the verse."

Again, this may be true - but I find terms such as "movement", "sweep",
"strength", and "drama" to be unhelpful in describing the dramatic,
rhetorical, or lyrical effects that Shakespeare can achieve with the
verse. Certainly the predominance of monosyllables in "To be or not to
be, that is the question" tends to slow the sentence and invite a
ponderous delivery. Likewise the plaintive falling rhythm of "Never,
never, never, never, never" assists the despairing emotion appropriate
to the occasion. I can't fathom how any actor (even an American actor)
could avoid exploiting these obvious devices. I suppose it's possible.

> "In part the problem is that the blank or rhymed iambic pentameter that
> Shakespeare wrote most often is indeed a foreign verse, and most of the
> strongest American poets of our time have found it uncongenial - of our
> language but not of our speech. They have not heard in the old British
> line a suitable vehicle for the cadences of American talk. Some poets
> have successfully practiced a looser form of iambic verse, and a group
> of New Formalists have achieved some prominence..."

I know of no writer, besides Shakespeare, that employs a more flexible
line of iambic pentameter - in his finely tuned ear that distinguishes
subtle linguistic qualities of words or groups of words, in his
deployment of inverted stress at a broad range of syntactic breaks, in
his liberal deployment of extra-metrical syllables. A "looser form of
iambic verse", for most poets of the past century, means a line of ten
syllables and let the stress fall where it may.

> "Under these conditions, it isn't easy for an American reader or actor
> to form the habit of listening to Shakespeare's metrical verse as
> verse, or hearing how the meter makes or reinforces rhetorical emphases,
> deepens or shifts a mood or tone, powers an emotional sentence or
> period, and intensifies not only the speech but the action.

American actors can capture the staccato rhythms of Mamet's wonderfully
profane rants. They can capture the lyricism of Tennessee Williams. They
can capture the convolutions of Sam Shepard. They have the tools to
bring their indigenous writers to life on the stage (and film). I see
nothing intrinsic in British inflections or intonations (or what have
you) that makes their approach seem more native to Shakespeare (other
than the sort of preference that one attributes to idiosyncratic taste
or to unexamined prejudice.)

>                                                "British... voices and
> intonational systems are closer in wavelength to those of Shakespeare's
> players and watchers..."

There is no way to substantiate or prove this statement. An
Elizabethan/Jacobean recording would be useful here.

                            "...and they hear more often (not always, of
> course)-in the theater or on the BBC-actors and actresses who do indeed
> know how to hold a metrical current and clinch a metrical emphasis in a
> line, a passage, or a scene." (Wright, pp.69-70)

What is a "metrical current"? What is a "metrical emphasis". I hear such
notions bandied about but I don't know what they mean. Again, the metre
is unavoidable. The metre is a feature of the line. Choosing emphasis
from among monosyllabic words depends upon the dramatic and rhetorical
occasion. The pattern of iambic pentameter is a pattern of stress in
polysyllabic words. The emphasis of a polysyllabic word must fall where
the stress lies. Giving a line meaning and emotion demands attention
(largely) to the syntactic character of the sentence. The verse takes
care of itself - though the character of the metre may suggest a
particular approach.

Graham Bradshaw concludes:

> Most contemporary critics of Shakespearean poetic drama discuss the
> plays as though they were or might as well have been written in prose.
> Wright's challengingly incisive commentary explains why this is the
> case. Would other SHAKSPERians disagree?

I agree the plays are often discussed as though "they were or might as
well have been written in prose". This excerpt from Wright is not,
however, "incisive". Wright's comments are (here, at least) too vague
and generalized to be useful. Perhaps his book clarifies the general
comments provided here.

Regards, David Wallace

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