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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: April ::
Re: Accents
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1142  Friday, 26 April 2002

[1]     From:   Don Bloom <
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        Date:   Thursday, 25 Apr 2002 10:44:49 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1125 Re: Accents

[2]     From:   R.A. Cantrell <
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        Date:   Thursday, 25 Apr 2002 11:07:49 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1127 Re: Accents

[3]     From:   Geralyn Horton <
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        Date:   Thursday, 25 Apr 2002 14:00:28 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1127 Re: Accents

[4]     From:   Michael Shurgot <
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        Date:   Thursday, 25 Apr 2002 11:31:48 -0700
        Subj:   RE: SHK 13.1127 Re: Accents

[5]     From:   Dana Shilling <
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        Date:   Thursday, 25 Apr 2002 13:32:35 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1127 Re: Accents

[6]     From:   Steve Urkowitz <
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        Date:   Thursday, 25 Apr 2002 18:59:24 -0400
        Subj:   Accents

[7]     From:   Stuart Manger <
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        Date:   Friday, 26 Apr 2002 00:23:34 +0100
        Subj:   SHK 13.1127 Re: Accents

[8]     From:   Brian Willis <
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        Date:   Thursday, 25 Apr 2002 18:01:37 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1127 Re: Accents

[9]     From:   Graham Bradshaw <
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        Date:   Friday, 26 Apr 2002 17:59:12 +0900
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1127 Re: Accents


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Don Bloom <
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Date:           Thursday, 25 Apr 2002 10:44:49 -0500
Subject: 13.1125 Re: Accents
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1125 Re: Accents

Despite a level of fatigue from this subject (accents) I will add one
more, perhaps less annoying, comment, for I find it has a connection to
another subject that had been bounced around here lately, that of
composition.

One of the things that I tell my students when I explain the need for
proper forms -- everything from spelling and punctuation to a Works
Cited bibliography -- is that they make things easier for the reader. If
writers and readers agree on an arbitrary set of rules for all forms,
then the readers are not constantly slowed or stopped by forms that
force them to figure out what the writer intends to say, but didn't
quite. They can concentrate on the content and not be distracted by the
medium. This is what I mean by "transparency" when applied to ordinary
expository writing.

In acting, it applies to an accent and other things that allow the actor
to get the character across. It should not intrude unless there is some
good reason for it. In a previous post, I cited *1 Henry IV* but I will
shamelessly cite it again. Of the major characters, most are Englishmen
and aristocrats, but one is Welsh, one is Scottish, and few are not
aristocrats.  For Glendower, a Welsh accent is virtually a necessity,
though it does not have to be excessively thick for (as he says) he
lived for a long time in the English court. You can do G without it if
you can't find a actor with the skill to learn the accent, but the loss
(to me) is a heavy one. So, likewise with Douglas. His native language
is, if not precisely English (a nod to Mr. Hamilton who has enlightened
me on the subject), at least a closely related one, and he would surely
speak English to the English, albeit with a noticeable Scottish accent.

Although noticeable, however, these accents are not intrusive because
they are important elements of the characters. Glendower should be WELSH
to have the proper impact, and Douglas should be SCOTTISH. Otherwise
they're little more than names.

The same thing applies to Mistress Quickly, Bardolph and the others.
They do not belong to the aristocracy and so shouldn't talk as if they
do. Mrs.  Quickly is hostess of tavern in East Cheap. For an American
audience any sort of consistent cockney accent will probably do. For a
British one, though, you might want to have the actor spend some time in
Cheapside to get it right (so that it doesn't sound like an American
doing cockney). But once more these are character traits and quickly
become transparent in their turn because they the fit the character and
situation.

Now you see my problem. If you do the play in Wales, and all the actors
sound like Glendower, then Glendower doesn't sound like Glendower any
more.  And, of course, you have the problem of all these Englishmen (and
one Scot of Scots) speaking with a Welsh accent. If you do the play in
Scotland, you have the same problem. I suppose if you do it in Cheapside
you do, also.

I recognize that not all plays have these regional / national factors.
But they all do have class factors. Though there are relatively few
members of the middle class in the plays, there are invariably servants.
If they speak the same upper-class English as the aristocrats, they will
sound like Jeeves -- not at all what S had in mind. But you can't have
them all speak some working class form either without generating still
more unwelcome laughter from the audience. It seems to me that you have
to be able to differentiate the characters by class or do serious damage
to your effort.

Class differences can presumably be registered in any regional accent
pattern, and so I presume you can do the plays anywhere with any accent
and have them work (provided, as Sam reminds us, the actors pronounce
their consonants whatever they do with their vowels). I must say,
however, that I find a production with a bunch of people speaking
middle-class, Middle Western American to lack a good bit of the magic
that's available.

Cheers,
don

P.S. Do companies in the UK do other plays in regional accents --
Coward, Wilde, Gay, Congreve, Wycherley -- or are these (especially the
last three) too rarely done to signify?

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           R.A. Cantrell <
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Date:           Thursday, 25 Apr 2002 11:07:49 -0500
Subject: 13.1127 Re: Accents
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1127 Re: Accents

> Does Mr. Weinstein seriously think

I believe that he does. Whatever else Charles Weinstein is, he is a
master of heuristic method and a deft pedagogue.

All the best,
R.A. Cantrell
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[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Geralyn Horton <
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Date:           Thursday, 25 Apr 2002 14:00:28 -0400
Subject: 13.1127 Re: Accents
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1127 Re: Accents

I sent this the last time we had this discussion (January?) but it
didn't seem to elicit any response-- perhaps the subject was exhausted
then, and has had a nap now and is full of energy and opinion once more?

Anyway:

I have strong feelings on this subject.  There's no particularly 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 may be lost.  International
"classic" or "costume" films have long used Mid-Atlantic English, so
audiences are used to listening to it, and find it easy to follow.

Meaning, relationship and word-music are most important: probably in
that order Open vowels aid projection and crisp consonants preserve
clarity during rapid speech: rapid speech is better than slow as the
norm for wordy texts like Ws's.  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 denotations 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 violated, siblings should speak the same dialect unless
they were separated at birth or one of them is "putting on airs" to fit
in with a group that doesn't speak the way the character's family does.

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 English 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 Northern England or Scots-flavored Shakespeare, and
even a Southern-USA  one.

But I've never understood why, in many English translations of French or
Greek or Roman theatre, the servants, whether city or country folk,
speak Cockney.

Geralyn Horton
http://www.stagepage.org

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[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Michael Shurgot <
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Date:           Thursday, 25 Apr 2002 11:31:48 -0700
Subject: 13.1127 Re: Accents
Comment:        RE: SHK 13.1127 Re: Accents

Dear Colleagues:

Pardon my ignorance (having been born into the urban squalor of Buffalo,
NY, and having grown up with all those Ukrainian, Polish, Italian,
Africa-American, German, and Irish "accents," heard and digested in
dozens of squalid neighborhood bars, etc.), but what the hell in this
latest round of laborious fuselages is "RP"?

Regards,
Michael

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Dana Shilling <
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Date:           Thursday, 25 Apr 2002 13:32:35 -0400
Subject: 13.1127 Re: Accents
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1127 Re: Accents

John Velz said:

> 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.

Shaw described a high point of Mme. Modjeska's Cleopatra as "Ohveederdee
degarlano devar."

Three points about accents:

1. I don't think Shakespeare's own actors were quite out of the top
drawer.

2. Class and regional issues are separate--there are rich people and
poor people in, e.g., Liverpool (or Atlanta)

3. Television, movies, and radio have a strong homogenizing effect on
accents.

Dana Shilling

PS--speaking of fatal Cleopatras--"reciprocate" = The Second Part of the
Taming of the Anthrax?

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Steve Urkowitz <
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Date:           Thursday, 25 Apr 2002 18:59:24 -0400
Subject:        Accents

So if you wanna sneer, fella, watch out I don't stuff ya' foot in it.
Labov demonstrates that the least sensitive to and most fierce adherents
of linguistic class-marker correctness are drawn from the
psychologically and economically insecure lower middle classes.

I think I'll go to my campus production of Hedda Gabbler right now to
cheerfully listen to New York sounds, gleefully enacting high culture in
its best spirit.

Say g'night, Gracie.
Steve Urconcoursowitz

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stuart Manger <
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Date:           Friday, 26 Apr 2002 00:23:34 +0100
Subject: Re: Accents
Comment:        SHK 13.1127 Re: Accents

It seems sad to me that this thread which started with a very
interesting scholarly and well-documented debate about the diverse ways
in which Shakespeare could be delivered in ENGLAND now and then, was
abruptly clouded with a degree of misinformation and understandable
misunderstanding by non-UK respondents, and then, as more or less
usually, appropriated by 'the usual suspects' and then settled into the
wearisomely predictable slanging match between American scholars (plus
some demagogues and slurry-shifters) about how Shakespeare is / was /
might be / ought to be delivered in USA, through which the way in which
changing British English pronunciation, regionalism and fascinating
issues of what is 'the Shakespeare Audience' was lost in transit.

It seems to me that some of the expectations expressed on this thread of
how Shakespeare 'ought' to be delivered relate to a criterion of spoken
/ public English of yesteryear in UK and then re-sown in USA. Such are
the new orthodoxies in UK theatre schools and on stages, that very
little of that yesteryear method survives now, as Lise Olson patiently
explained what seems aeons back.

Only today (25.4.02) , both The Times and The Guardian are lamenting
Stuart Wilson's poor verse speaking in the new 'A and C' with the RSC,
while heaping unstinting praise on Sinead Cusack's Cleo. The Antony is
largely a screen and TV actor. Cusack is theatre through and through.
Coincidence? Would anyone like to make something of THAT as a
determinant of accent / diction / delivery / verse speaking etc? Are
drama colleges preparing actors more for TV and big bucks, than the
stage, upon which a method of delivery of originally intended public
rhetoric has to flourish? Can you / should you in the name of right-on
accessibility mumble Shakespeare like a soap opera on a stage?

How good an Iago would Kevin Spacey be? Or is that a can of worms as
well?

Stuart Manger

[8]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brian Willis <
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Date:           Thursday, 25 Apr 2002 18:01:37 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 13.1127 Re: Accents
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1127 Re: Accents

Thanks to Holger, Mari, Martin, Karen, Judi, Arthur, and David in
particular for making very exceptional and intelligently argued points
on this issue. They expressed what I could not, in my anger, have
expressed properly.

Pacino is from Brooklyn by the way. And played MANY Shakespearean roles
onstage, to much critical acclaim, before he became famous in The
Godfather. I would laugh at such pure bigotry if it didn't infuriate me
so much. But I guess that's what Charles wants to get out of me so he
wins, doesn't he?

The accents of Glendower and co. in Henry IV or Fluellen, Macmorris and
co. in Henry V are exceptions to this rule. The discussion is in regards
to Shakespeare in general being done outside of a "proper" (whatever
that means) accent. I'm sure that Pacino was not planning Richard III as
a Brooklynite at all, but to speak in his own accent. The only thing I
can fault him for is slipping into a slight British accent every now and
then (yes, he does if you listen closely). The real problem is the
perception that Shakespeare can only be done properly in an English
accent. When I first performed Shakespeare, I was told by my directors
that I was lapsing into a British accent to speak my lines. Utterly
ridiculous for me to do. With help, I eventually realized that I could
speak the verse trippingly in my own American accent.  It didn't bother
me to perform at the Shakespeare Institute with my American accent while
surrounded by primarily British actors. I'm proud to say I never slipped
once and didn't even have thoughts of slipping. To paraphrase the
Democratic campaign slogan for 1992 - it's about the performance,
stupid. Don't let your personal biases get in the way or you have no
business being a critic of Shakespearean performance.

Brian Willis

[9]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Graham Bradshaw <
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Date:           Friday, 26 Apr 2002 17:59:12 +0900
Subject: 13.1127 Re: Accents
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1127 Re: Accents

This "accents" line is becoming very interesting. I have no trouble in
believing that Sean Connery's Hotspur was wonderful, and I suspect that
the contrast between North and South/rough and mellifluous figured in
the Globe contrasts between two Hals. (Of course one can't know.) An
intense, electrifying delivery is just that, in Scots, American, or
Australian, whatever the vowel sounds, or intonation, or other RP
hangups. But rhythmic distortion is always wrong, isn't it? I still
suspect that the crucial representational issue has to do with metrical
rhythm, and then, with whether or how metrical rhythm can be a
constituent of meaning. I think it is.

Best wishes, Graham Bradshaw

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