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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: April ::
Re: Accents
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1161  Monday, 29 April 2002

[1]     From:   R.A. Cantrell <
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        Date:   Friday, 26 Apr 2002 09:35:35 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1142 Re: Accents

[2]     From:   R.A. Cantrell <
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        Date:   Friday, 26 Apr 2002 09:38:42 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1142 Re: Accents

[3]     From:   Sam Small <
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        Date:   Friday, 26 Apr 2002 17:58:53 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1142 Re: Accents

[4]     From:   Terence Hawkes <
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        Date:   Friday, 26 Apr 2002 13:30:08 -0400
        Subj:   SHK 13.1142 Re: Accents

[5]     From:   Geralyn Horton <
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        Date:   Friday, 26 Apr 2002 15:43:00 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1142 Re: Accents

[6]     From:   Herb Weil <
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        Date:   Friday, 26 Apr 2002 23:01:09 +0100
        Subj:   Accents

[7]     From:   Brian Willis <
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        Date:   Friday, 26 Apr 2002 18:01:56 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1142 Re: Accents

[8]     From:   David Wallace <
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        Date:   Saturday, 27 Apr 2002 02:07:35 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1142 Re: Accents

[9]     From:   Matthew Baynham <
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        Date:   Monday, 29 Apr 2002 09:51:40 +0100
        Subj:   Accents


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           R.A. Cantrell <
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Date:           Friday, 26 Apr 2002 09:35:35 -0500
Subject: 13.1142 Re: Accents
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1142 Re: Accents

> How good an Iago would Kevin Spacey be?

I think I'd prefer Robert Blake, perhaps with O.J. as Simpson Othello,
in a large venue.

All the best,
R.A. Cantrell
<
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[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           R.A. Cantrell <
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Date:           Friday, 26 Apr 2002 09:38:42 -0500
Subject: 13.1142 Re: Accents
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1142 Re: Accents

> I'm sure that Pacino was not planning Richard III

I thought Pacino grabbed and shook the role in the Looking for Richard
snippets.

All the best,
R.A. Cantrell
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[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sam Small <
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Date:           Friday, 26 Apr 2002 17:58:53 +0100
Subject: 13.1142 Re: Accents
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1142 Re: Accents

Accents reveal deep social prejudices, and of course, even to race.
Noticeable was Michael Shurgot's list including Ukrainian, Polish,
Italian, Africa-American, German, and Irish.  Why does African get an
American tag and not the others?  If I emigrated to the USA would I be
known as English-American?  If not, why not?

Mr Shurgot also asks "what the hell in this latest round of laborious
fuselages is 'RP'?"  I have said it before and I really have to say it
again.  RP is NOT an English accent.  It is a rootless, regionless
cultureless invention of the BBC in an attempt to make voice
broadcasting intelligible in the days of AM radio and to separate it
from the upper classes who NEVER speak with an RP accent.  As an
unexpected result RP has become associated with the purported values of
the BBC including the patronage of the minor arts which includes, of
course, Shakespeare recitation.  The BBC inspired RP accent is supposed
to represent the whole of the United Kingdom but by inference is an
insult to Scots, Irish and Welsh - not to speak of the 97% of English
people who simply don't speak in such a pompous and artificial way.
Accent connects people to their own culture.  The RP accent connects to
nothing save the egocentric chest puffing of the BBC establishment.
Remember, my American friends, that if British people do not give money
to the BBC they can be imprisoned.  Is that part of the moral canon of
Shakespeare's plays?

SAM SMALL
http://www.passioninpieces.co.uk

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Terence Hawkes <
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Date:           Friday, 26 Apr 2002 13:30:08 -0400
Subject: Re: Accents
Comment:        SHK 13.1142 Re: Accents

Don Bloom writes,

'For Glendower, a Welsh accent is virtually a necessity'

For Glendower, the prime necessity is that he and his daughter are able
to speak the Welsh language. This has nothing to do with speaking
English in a particular accent. The disturbing eruption of this ancient
tongue, and the stark challenge it implicitly makes to the
presuppositions of English is a matter of considerable significance in
the play, ignored only at great cost.

T. Hawkes

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Geralyn Horton <
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Date:           Friday, 26 Apr 2002 15:43:00 -0400
Subject: 13.1142 Re: Accents
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1142 Re: Accents

> 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.

I saw Pacino's "critically acclaimed" (some critics acclaimed, most were
at best mixed) RIII at the Theatre Co.  of Boston (late sixties? early
seventies?).  In fact. I saw parts of it several times: I was goferring
for the theatre in that era. For about 20 years I preserved Richard's
dark red tunic, with one long arm and one short, given to me at the post
show strike, as a memento. Such period tunics were probably part of the
reason the show didn't work.  In fancy dress, the other actors went for
fancy delivery-- even though generally the style was contemporary
realistic rather than Victorian rhetorical. A silent film of that TCoB
production would show an interesting Richard.  But truly, the Brooklyn
sound was so thick and so different from the surrounding speech-- of
brothers Clarence and Edward IV and cousin Buckingham-- that it was
jarring.  There was at least one other Urban New Yorkese speaker in that
production, but in a humble role. A single extended speech of Pacino's
might even have me believing that this was the way Plantagenets spoke--
but in dialogue, yuk!

I also saw Pacino's Pavlo Hummel, and can affirm the legendary
brilliance of that performance.

Geralyn Horton
http://www.stagepage.org

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[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Herb Weil <
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Date:           Friday, 26 Apr 2002 23:01:09 +0100
Subject:        Accents

One correction: Stuart Wilson played Hotspur for the RSC. We have seen
him in other major roles in London  -- so he is not just a refugee from
Jewel in the Crown.

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brian Willis <
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Date:           Friday, 26 Apr 2002 18:01:56 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 13.1142 Re: Accents
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1142 Re: Accents

Actually, Don makes some outstanding points about accents in the plays.
This actually is an intriguing discussion when prejudices aren't allowed
to intrude.

However, I would like to ask about American performance, since this
thread was begun in response to an American performance of Shakespeare
(Pacino).  For instance, if someone were to do Henry V for instance,
there are three options of what to do with the play especially in
regards to Fluellen and co. 1) Do the play in British accents, including
the correct accents for that group, 2) perform in an American accent and
transfer their accents into some American equivalent that makes sense
(perhaps Brooklyn or Bronx, Southern, Midwestern, California beach bum
or others that make sense) or 3) cut them from the play, which his been
frequently done.

I was fortunate enough to play Henry V. Our production spoke in our
natural American accents and we cut Macmorris and Jamy. However, our
French had outrageous French stereotypes in accent and manner and we
kept Fluellen with the actor actually studying and adopting a Welsh
accent. Now of course I wouldn't presume to say that the accents were
spot on or didn't slip from time to time. Of course not. We were
amateurs. However, the effect on our audience was certainly different
than it would be on a British audience. If we had endeavored to strain
our performances with affected "authentic" accents, we would have
distanced ourselves from our American audience. Authentic here can mean
British or otherwise unnatural speech (to an American at least). As it
is, the French were hilariously funny simply because the audience was
laughing at brutal French stereotypes.  With Fluellen, I'm certainly
willing to guess that a large portion of the audience probably did not
recognize it as Welsh. They could easily have thought of it as Irish or
perhaps even Scottish because they would have been ignorant of the
nuances. Nevertheless, the accent produced a laugh. Simply, the Welsh,
Scottish, Irish, and even French accents do not have the same affect on
an American audience, nor would they on a Russian, a Jamaican, or a
Japanese audience.

I guess the point is this: I can see and appreciate the point about
performing in a "transparent" speech pattern. For each person, that is
the natural speech of their birth. I'm certain that, when I performed in
Britain, every line I delivered was accepted as a "foreign" accent and
hence not transparent, especially when performing Twelfth Night with a
primarily British cast. I was quite aware of my foreign accent at first
and felt a little intimidated by doing my role with an awkward (though
natural to me) American accent.  Nevertheless, I would hope that the
audience appreciated (or at least were not biased against) my
performance regardless of my accent. The same goes for any performance.
To complain that, to paraphrase, "the performance was poor because of
the native accent of the performer" is a poor filter and a fruitless
claim.  The whole point of performing is to connect to your audience.
Performing in their "transparent" accent certainly helps. I think that
sometimes in Shakespeare it is the thing to do. With the international
roles, sometimes a little translation helps as well. When someone
attacks a Brooklynite for using his accent, it is not necessarily a
valid reason to attack the performance. It smacks of prejudice and maybe
even racism to me.

Brian Willis

[8]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Wallace <
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Date:           Saturday, 27 Apr 2002 02:07:35 -0700
Subject: 13.1142 Re: Accents
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1142 Re: Accents

  Graham Bradshaw writes:

> 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.

I think there are a couple of errors many of us make when we consider
the "rhythm" of Shakespeare's verse.

First, we tend to cling to the notion that iambic pentameter is a
pattern of alternating unstressed/stressed syllables. Anyone reading the
verse in any sensible fashion will immediately see that this description
is inaccurate. There is no such rhythmic pattern. Nor is this
description improved by suggesting that alternating unstressed/stressed
syllables is the "dominant pattern". It's not.

Second, we tend to conflate the notion of emphasis with the linguistic
characteristic of stress. Emphasis of certain words depends, largely,
upon the dramatic or rhetorical occasion. Words receive emphasis in
order to achieve clarity of meaning. If emphasis were a factor in the
rhythmic pattern of the verse, then Graham Bradshaw would be correct in
his observation that metrical rhythm is a "constituent of meaning". But
emphasis can change according to a variety of interpretations offered by
different actors. Some interpretations are, of course, more sensible
than others. But the number of defensible interpretations available
through emphasizing certain words are so numerous as to preclude
emphasis as a factor in the rhythmic pattern of the verse. A pattern, in
order to be a pattern, must repeat itself and must possess predictable
variations. Actors are not predictable.

I think Paul Kiparsky (whose discipline is linguistics) was the first to
observe that the pattern in Shakespeare's verse is a pattern of stress
in polysyllabic words. Stress in polysyllabic words does not vary
(unless the same word can be used in different forms, say a verb and a
noun). The stress in polysyllabic words is what Shakespeare (and
virtually all poets who employ iambic pentameter) are "counting" in
their "numbers". The metrical position of the stress varies predictably
according to the syntactic character of the sentence. The variations are
governed by the position of syntactic breaks (as are extra metrical
syllables - the so-called feminine ending). As I mentioned in my
previous post on this subject, any monosyllabic word may receive
emphasis. But a polysyllabic word can only be emphasized where the
stress naturally falls. Whatever else an actor may do in a line of
verse, s/he must place the stress of polysyllabic words in the correct
position. Virtually all native speakers of English will do this
regardless of other linguistic considerations, such as differences in
the intonation of vowels. An actor with a pronounced French accent
would, indeed, likely mangle the rhythmic pattern of the verse. French,
typically, places stress on the final syllable of a polysyllabic word.
(Which is why a French accent is so charming.) English, typically,
places stress on the penultimate syllable.

This is why I occasionally bristle when I hear directors give actors
unhelpful advice such as "use the verse". In terms of the rhythmic or
metrical qualities of the verse, it is senseless to advise an actor to
use the verse. The verse is already using the actor. The stress of
polysyllabic words cannot be avoided. It is the position of stress that
gives the verse its "flow". I'd suggest the metric pattern, in general,
allows the actor to speak rather more quickly than if s/he were dealing
with prose. But the other qualities we expect of verse (formality,
concrete imagery, alliteration, rhyme, complexity, syntactic balance
etc.) are largely outside the purview of metrics. Making these aspects
of the verse effective are problems, largely, of syntax and, perhaps, of
diction. They demand the actor pay attention to the sentence, not the
metre. The metre takes care of itself. Certain metrical qualities, such
as those evident in the line "Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous,
kindless, villain!" are worth considering closely. The line is iambic
pentameter, but the presence of so many polysyllabic words in
uninterrupted sequence tends to give the line a "trochaic" quality - a
quality that assists the desperate emotions of the moment. Shakespeare
can achieve a number of effects with metrical choices - but the effects
are difficult to screw up because they are unavoidable. It's tough to
"distort" the metre. It is complex syntax that bedevils actors, not
"verse" per se.

Regional accents of native English speakers should have no influence on
the the metre of verse. I can appreciate that regional accents carry
particular cultural associations that (depending on one's cultural
perspective) may produce unfortunate perceptions. But whatever else
regional accents are "distorting", it probably not the rhythmic patterns
of the verse.

Regards. David Wallace

[9]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Matthew Baynham <
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Date:           Monday, 29 Apr 2002 09:51:40 +0100
Subject:        Accents

I thought I might add one interesting use of accent in a Michael
Bogdanov TV production of Macbeth for the British Channel 4. It was very
noticeable that none of the kings or thanes had a Scottish accent and it
appeared that the actors for these parts had been chosen to have other
British accents: Welsh (Duncan) Irish (Macduff) and English (Malcolm)
Macbeth himself was English, but without Jack Davenport's upper class
English drawl.

I think the effect was to suggest that the play pandered to James I's
claim to be King of the newly united Britain, understood as a project
which had no real concern for the people of Scotland, but was about the
battle for power and succession within the ruling elite. When Malcolm's
armies won back control of Scotland, it was made clear by the soundtrack
(Parry's Jerusalem conjuring up the jingoistic use of Blake's words)
that he was essentially an English puppet. Meanwhile the kingdom over
which the nobles squabbled was in ruins, because its well-being was less
important to them than the mere fact of having power over it.

There was a reading forward too, I think, into contemporary English
(sic) politics, where Labour, the party of the left, is seen to have
abandoned its more left wing principles in its project to win the votes
of middle class middle England: leaving the working classes, not least
in Scotland and Wales, to continue to suffer in the post-industrial
wasteland left by Thatcherism.

The accents facilitated and clarified this interpretation.

Matthew Baynham
Chaplain
Bishop Grosseteste College

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