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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: April ::
Re: Accents
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1127  Thursday, 25 April 2002

[1]     From:   Holger Schott <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 24 Apr 2002 11:14:56 -0400
        Subj:   RE: SHK 13.1125 Re: Accents

[2]     From:   John Velz <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 24 Apr 2002 11:21:25 -0500
        Subj:   Accents

[3]     From:   Mari Bonomi  <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 24 Apr 2002 12:25:42 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1125 Re: Accents

[4]     From:   Martin Steward <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 24 Apr 2002 17:57:23 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1125 Re: Accents

[5]     From:   Don Bloom <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 24 Apr 2002 13:23:54 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1082 Re: Accents

[6]     From:   Michael Shurgot <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 24 Apr 2002 11:32:37 -0700
        Subj:   RE: SHK 13.1125 Re: Accents

[7]     From:   Karen Peterson <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 24 Apr 2002 17:10:18 -0700 (PDT)
      Subj:     Re: SHK 13.1125 Re: Accents

[8]     From:   Judi Wilkins <
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        Date:   Thu, 25 Apr 2002 10:39:51 +1000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1125 Re: Accents

[9]     From:   Arthur Lindley <
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        Date:   Thursday, 25 Apr 2002 11:33:48 +0800 (SGT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1125 Re: Accents

[10]    From:   David Schalkwyk <
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        Date:   Thursday, 25 Apr 2002 08:25:31 +0200
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1125 Re: Accents



[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Holger Schott <
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Date:           Wednesday, 24 Apr 2002 11:14:56 -0400
Subject: 13.1125 Re: Accents
Comment:        RE: SHK 13.1125 Re: Accents

Charles Weinstein wrote:

>Hearing Mozart played on a kazoo may be amusingly incongruous or
>bracingly subversive to some; most would just find it God-awful; no one
>could claim that it does full justice to the beauty, precision and
>complexity of the music.  Oh, I forgot--beauty, precision and complexity
>are elite values, which no right-thinking person could tolerate.  A
>thousand pardons!

Well, CW is unintentionally arguing against his own position here:
depending on where you stand on the issue, acting Shakespeare in RP is
_exactly_ like playing Mozart on a Kazoo - amusing - or on a Steinway -
equally anachronistic, but high-culturally acceptable - but it has
nothing to do with the accents through which "highly-wrought Renaissance
verse" would have been heard on the early modern stage. Yes, we are more
used to hearing "classically trainee" actors speak Shakespeare, but the
link between this acting style and Shakespeare's lines is entirely
arbitrary, not inherent in the text, or the earliest moments of its
performance history. That doesn't mean that we should go back to acting
Shakespeare in an exact replica of the regional accents that we think
the various sharers of the Lord Chamberlain's / King's Men would have
spoken - although that idea has a certain appeal, I imagine it's
probably harder to do than to reconstruct the sound of an 18th-century
orchestra - but it should make us aware that the Bronx and Belgravia are
equally inauthentic places for speakers of Shakespeare to come form.
Critics like Weinstein might attach greater value to the intonations
associated with the latter, but that has nothing to do with Shakespeare.

Holger

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Velz <
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Date:           Wednesday, 24 Apr 2002 11:21:25 -0500
Subject:        Accents

I shudder when I remember a campus production from early 1970s of
*Antony and Cleopatra* in which Antony moaned "I am dyink Egypt,
dyink."  Don't laugh, it HAPpened.

Yours for accents,
John

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mari Bonomi
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Date:           Wednesday, 24 Apr 2002 12:25:42 -0400
Subject: 13.1125 Re: Accents
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1125 Re: Accents

Our resident churl opines,

<<I'll just talk about the Bronx dialect,
> redolent as it is with American urban squalor>>

Thank you so much for lumping much of my family and friends from
childhood/adolescence, my former in-laws, and even my own speech
patterns so cleanly into the category of urban squalor with its
concomitant implications of poverty of mind and soul and spirit.  I
never realized how deprived I am, how deprived and depraved, until I
read that statement.

BALDERDASH, Chuckie, BALDERDASH.

The cahs pahked in the Hahvahd Yahd (odd, I never saw any parking spaces
there when I visited, do provide me with a map) are put there by people
with a regional accent just as pronounced, and, candidly, no more
elevated in soul, spirit, or mind than my family, friends and I.

And the very "redneck," "backwoods" accent of West Virginia, Kentucky,
Arkansas mountain hamlets that so many mock may well come quite close to
the way Shakespeare's actors spoke his words... slurs, elisions,
odd-to-our-ears pronunciations and all.  Check it out.

And any open-minded person who saw Dustin Hoffman's Shylock would
testify that the passion and pain with which he bewailed the loss of his
*daughter* then secondarily of his ducats was not vitiated by his Middle
Atlantic Urban pronunciation.  Nor was the pain he made evident at the
end of the trial scene.  His Shylock suffered in a way that gave me more
ways of looking at MoV.  It was moving and convincing, regardless of the
accents in which he spoke.

You have left the realms of legitimate criticism far behind, Chuckie,
and ventured a long way down the path from snobbery toward bigotry.

Mari Bonomi

PS:  Yes, I admit it. I am a graduate of Temple University in the very
urban heart of Philadelphia, not of Hahvahd or even of Yale, though
these days I dwell within miles of the latter's hallowed (*snort*)
halls.  I do not believe that my students over 35+ years have learned
any less about Shakespeare because I spoke his words with a
Philadelphia-New York accent.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Martin Steward <
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Date:           Wednesday, 24 Apr 2002 17:57:23 +0100
Subject: 13.1125 Re: Accents
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1125 Re: Accents

Being a person who still gets a fair amount of pleasure from effing and
blinding in the unadulterated cadences learned in the unself-conscious
days of my youth, the assumption of an essential link between a way of
speaking and "an inadequate understanding of ... words" or a "lack [of]
intellectual, educational, spiritual and technical resources", let alone
"steet thuggery", strikes me as willfully precipitous (at best).

I believe I have mentioned it once before on this list, but as Charles
Weinstein decided to bring in Mozart, I'll do so again: Readers might
like to seek out the excellent performances of early-modern music by the
vocal ensemble Red Byrd, which are freely and cheaply available on the
Naxos label (CDs five quid each in UK). You will hear the words set by
Gibbons, Lawes, Dowland, Hume, etc. sung as they might have been before
the great "vowel shift" of the later 17th C. A bit of a shock to us
Southerners, but a salutary, and ultimately a rewarding, one.

And Mozart's music, it should be said, is now performed quite
differently from how it was 100 or even 50 years ago. Kazoos are still
out, but "period" or "authentic" instruments (as well as performance
practices) are certainly in, and it makes a big difference. Now, how can
we judge whether or not the later 19th C. designs for instruments are
"better" or "worse" for the performance of late 18th C. music? I don't
suppose anyone would deny that either kind really fails to do "full
justice to the beauty, precision and complexity of the music". However,
get an orchestra manned by players whose musical ability roughly matches
mine, and you would find that, period instruments or no, Mozart would
sound excruciatingly awful. The point is, it's not the technology (or
the accent) that matters, it is the ability of the performer to match
that technology (or accent) to the "the beauty, precision and
complexity" of his text.

m

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Don Bloom <
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Date:           Wednesday, 24 Apr 2002 13:23:54 -0500
Subject: 13.1082 Re: Accents
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1082 Re: Accents

My apologies to Lise Olson for suggesting that she had said that many
people in the UK would not understand RP. (Indeed, I found it hard to
believe that she would say it or that it could be true, and said so.)
What she said was

> Non-U accents (voice professionals prefer the non subjective term
> 'regional accents' to describe what they are--non neutral accents
> associated with specific regions) are used in contemporary Shakespeare
> productions not only for 'concept' but also for accessibility. Most
> people in the UK do not speak in RP (the neutral accent that you refer
> to). That accent calls attention to itself in places such as Liverpool,
> Cardiff, Birmingham, Sheffield, Glasgow (as well as many other places).
> The accent that is perceived as neutral in those places IS the regional
> accent. Unless you wish to limit Shakespearean productions to those
> speaking RP (except for the occasional 'comedic' characters --but that
> is your point, is it not ? ) please think again about your idealised
> aural vision of Shakespeare. Better yet, keep it on the page--then you
> can hear it in whatever accent you desire. Putting it on the stage would
> mean that live actors and directors might mangle your singular view of
> how the plays should sound.

I rather rashly took the sentence beginning "Unless you wish to limit .
. ." as indicating that the limitation would be a matter of not
understanding, where actually she meant that they would not be tolerated
and people would not pay good money to hear them done in RP. Or so I now
conclude.

This still puzzles me but I suppose it has to do with facts of recent
British socio-cultural history that I have only a slight awareness of.

And I am still a little perplexed. In *1 Henry IV* do Glendower,
Douglas, Hal and Bardolph all use the same accent, and Lady Percy and
the Hostess? Are all distinctions obliterated?

Cheers,
don

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Michael Shurgot <
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Date:           Wednesday, 24 Apr 2002 11:32:37 -0700
Subject: 13.1125 Re: Accents
Comment:        RE: SHK 13.1125 Re: Accents

Charles Weinstein's point is essential in this "debate" about language.
Most of the live theatre I see is decidedly "regional": Seattle and
Olympia (pop.40,000+) in Washington state, and Portland and Ashland,
Oregon. In none of these venues do I hear the King's or Queen's English;
nor would I wish to. I am editing a book of interviews on American
Shakespearean actors in all their wonderful variety because I wish to
celebrate that variety. All I ask for, and usually receive, is competent
verse speaking by actors who UNDERSTAND what they are saying and why and
can make sense of dramatic verse.

Charles' analogy with music is germane here. Would we tolerate and pay
big bucks for a live concert by violinists who mauled J. S. Bach's
Concerto in D for two violins and continuo? I think not; we would demand
our money back or, at the very least, never visit that group of
"players" or their venues again. If we would not tolerate or pay for
totally incompetent musicians, why tolerate or pay for actors who have
no idea how to "play" what Shakespeare has written? I ask not for
British or any other "accent," a term I do not like and never use in my
theatre reviews.  I ask only that the actors, like musicians, understand
and play well what their creators have written for them. This is not an
elitist position; I ask for competence and understanding and sincere
effort in the "players" I see and hear.

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Karen Peterson <
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Date:           Wednesday, 24 Apr 2002 17:10:18 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 13.1125 Re: Accents
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1125 Re: Accents

Charles Weinstein wrote,

> Me, I'll just talk about
> the Bronx dialect,
> redolent as it is with American urban squalor.

It might be valuable to pin down definitions between what we mean when
we say "accent" and what we mean when we say "dialect."  I'm not
qualified to do so, really, so...I'm going to use the word "accent"
here, intending it to mean a pronunciation pattern.

I think Charles highlights an important point: every accent carries with
it connotations.  But the connotations will be different for different
auditors.  I had an off-list conversation recently with another list
member about the Mankiewicz 1953 film of *Julius Caesar*.  I quite liked
Edmond O'Brien's Casca.  My correspondent felt that O'Brien's
Brooklyn/Irish-New York accent interfered with his enjoyment of the
performance.  *I* thought that same accent enhanced Casca's character,
the plain-speaking, straight-to-the-point guy in the group.  It's all in
the listener's perceptions and tastes.

Charles writes,

> What is gained by watching one of the Bard's history
> plays through the grimy window of this patois?
> Well, it does suggest an analogy between royal
> machinations and street thuggery, a point which is
> made in the first five minutes.

Well, yes.  It also seems possible that new implications of this might
be made after the first five minutes, as new plot machinations fall into
place.

> In exchange for this rich, deep insight, we have to
> endure several hours of hearing Shakespeare's
> language butchered by an actor who has (shall we
> say) an inadequate understanding of the words,
> and who lacks the intellectual, educational,
> spiritual and technical resources to articulate
> them.

Is it possible that there is an actor out there somewhere who speaks
with a Bronx accent and *has* the intellectual, educational, and
spiritual resources to speak Shakespeare's language, even if his
technical abilities (i.e. voice) are perhaps not all they could be?  It
seems to me that it's hypothetically possible, at least.  I'm not good
enough with the classification of American accents to know precisely
from where his accent derives, but DeNiro's RIII seems a potential
example.

Another point: if the performance by Bronx-accented actors were to be
given before, say, an audience of Bronx high school students, they would
perceive the actors' accents as "neutral," and thereby be able to focus
more on the words, the meanings, the characters, and all the other
wonderful things we enjoy about Shakespeare in performance...without the
difficulty of penetrating an unfamiliar speaking pattern.

Charles' preference for not getting into British accent issues is
understandable.  As an American in the UK, every day I am learning more
about just how loaded the issue of accents, as a marker of social class,
is over here.  As a way of challenging preconceptions through
performance, I can only applaud the companies that work *with* regional
accents, like Northern Broadsides.  Especially as we really *don't* know
precisely what the accent/dialect of Shakespeare's theatre might have
been.  One of my former grad school professors (Charles Frey, who lurks
on this list!) once read aloud to our seminar an excerpt in what he
thought might be an approximation of an Elizabethan accent.  It was far
closer to a Northern England/Borders accent than it was to received
standard.

And it was lovely.

Cheers,
Karen

[8]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Judi
 Wilkins <
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Date:           Thu, 25 Apr 2002 10:39:51 +1000
Subject: 13.1125 Re: Accents
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1125 Re: Accents

Does Mr. Weinstein seriously think that the priceless verse of the
immortal bard was written to be recited in RP?  If this is the case,
does this infer that the only interpreters of S can be those who have
perfect RP pronunciation (except, of course, for the comedic cockneys)?
What a rippa (that's Strine for 'very good') idea!  That way all those
pushy regionals, colonials and former colonials are automatically
excluded from participation, but should passively receive imposed
perfection.  Bit like pre Vatican 2 Catholicism and the Latin mass;
Heaven forbid that the laity should be involved or understand what was
happening.  So, no English Stage Company, no Bell Shakespeare, no Joseph
Papp spectaculars in Central Park and certainly put the kibosh on the US
regional Shakespeare industry, since American actors, receiving little
voice training anyway, by and large cannot reproduce RP (or Brit
regional accents for that matter). Most Brits don't speak RP either,
since, while it may be based on certain natural speech patterns, it is
entirely artificial and it is acquired, and therefore artificial.  Nor
is it static; what was accepted as ideal some years ago, is now regarded
as laughably old fashioned and posed. Hey, we're becoming more rarified
by the moment!  This is great fun!  Who can undertake the perfect
production, and where?  All US performers are out ,because RP or no,
speaking the verse, trippingly or otherwise does demand speaking in
English, and as the American adapter of the Irishman's Henry Higgins
pointed out; In America they haven't used it for years!

I don't think anyone in this debate is seriously expounding the values
of slipshod, slovenly English.  But non RP, in these enlightened post
colonial times is neither slovenly nor slipshod.  Poor articulation and
non interpretation of the words are the product of faulty training or
small talent, not region. Nor let us forget cultural ignorance and
imperialism!  Despite my Australianism (and accent), during a sojourn in
the US some years ago, I worked extensively in regional theatre (no
places named to protect the innocent).  I was in high demand both as
actor and voice coach for anything English, from Dame Agatha (or as she
was invariably misnamed, Dame Christie) through Coward to Bill the
Bard.  The joke was that I don't sound in the least bit English; it was
enough that I wasn't American; I was different enough to 'pass'. At the
same time, one of the local restaurants was featuring 'Austrian' rock
lobster on its menu!  Charlie, if I were you I'd be careful about
petrous projectiles and vitreous abodes!

See yers, cobbers!
Judi

[9]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Arthur Lindley <
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Date:           Thursday, 25 Apr 2002 11:33:48 +0800 (SGT)
Subject: 13.1125 Re: Accents
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1125 Re: Accents

Shakespeare did not, of course, speak RP (or any other modern dialect)
and neither did the actors he wrote for. If he were alive and as
priggish as Charles Weinstein, he might think Gielgud and Olivier were
mangling his words quite as much as Pacino or Gibson.  The standard of
propriety to which Weinstein appeals, however, does not exist, which
leaves him saying simply that he thinks RP sounds nice and that demotic
voices remind him of nasty people with dirty hands. I'll forbear comment
on the kind of mind that equates a working class accent with squalor.

Arthur Lindley

[10]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David
 Schalkwyk <
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Date:           Thursday, 25 Apr 2002 08:25:31 +0200
Subject: 13.1125 Re: Accents
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1125 Re: Accents

What would you say, Charles, about black actors (who grew up in South
Africa, say, and let's say they were taught drama at the University of
Cape Town or Witwatersrand Drama Schools) speaking the Bard's lines?
Would their accents also "butcher" the language, and worse, betray
(purely, it seems by virtue of being an accent) an "inadequate
understanding of the words".  Moreover, would this accent, admittedly
far from both West Virginia and the Home Counties, mean that the actor
"lacks the intellectual, educational, spiritual and technical resources
to articulate them"?  If not, what would make them different from
someone speaking the (purely by virtue of an accent!) the "grimy urban
squalor" of Brooklyn?

In anticipation.

David

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