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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: March ::
Re: Shaw on Actors' Accents
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0445  Tuesday, 11 March 2003

[1]     From:   D Bloom <
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        Date:   Thursday, 6 Mar 2003 08:25:06 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0423 Re: Shaw on Actors' Accents

[2]     From:   Dale Lyles <
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        Date:   Thursday, 6 Mar 2003 22:11:28 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0423  Re: Shaw on Actors' Accents

[3]     From:   Sam Small <
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        Date:   Sunday, 9 Mar 2003 00:19:51 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0423 Re: Shaw on Actors' Accents


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           D Bloom <
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Date:           Thursday, 6 Mar 2003 08:25:06 -0600
Subject: 14.0423 Re: Shaw on Actors' Accents
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0423 Re: Shaw on Actors' Accents

What people seem to be saying is that Shakespeare's texts have become
detached from any particular time or locale.

Other plays require quite specific accents. Can you imagine Noel Coward
done in anything except upper-class English? Neil Simon's
quasi-biographical plays have to be done in New York Jewish. Tennessee
Williams requires a variety of Southern accents, except the occasional
Stanley Kowalski who *must* speak blue-collar northern.

As we know, prestige English has undergone a number of changes from
Dryden's time to our own, but surely all those rakes and belles, and
their descendents in Congreve and Sheridan and Wilde should sound like
the English upper-class, and not like either Big Daddy or Walter Lee
Younger. The characters in Priestley's *When We Were Married* are mainly
of the Yorkshire business-class -- and should sound that way. Actors
shouldn't take parts they can't act, including replicating the necessary
accent.

It depresses me when directors write in explaining that accent doesn't
matter. It matters to me, and I'm afraid I have less respect for actors
who cannot modify their accents.

And as to RP and prestige English, hasn't there always been a prestige
form of English -- south midlands -- composed of London, Oxford and
Cambridge accent patterns?

Or perhaps not always. Perhaps only for the past 700 years.

Of course, insofar as Shakespeare becomes detached from England, I
suppose the point becomes irrelevant when applied to him.

Cheers,
don

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Dale Lyles <
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Date:           Thursday, 6 Mar 2003 22:11:28 EST
Subject: 14.0423  Re: Shaw on Actors' Accents
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0423  Re: Shaw on Actors' Accents

To clarify for Gabriel Egan (and others who might be curious):

He asks, "Have I misunderstood, or are you saying that deep South is an
appropriate accent for clowns? Is this an American version of the
British 'West Country = foolish' stereotype?"

Yes and no.

As I am sure is true of West Country, there are a lot of Southern
accents, some of which we do dare to use to "telegraph"
foolish/clownish.

I'm willing to bet that the accent Abagnale used was a richer Southern
accent than one we would use for Dogberry or Costard.  Also, the 60s
were not only the era of NASA but also of TV westerns, so you got
associations with macho derring-do all round, y'all.

So which characters could we play with such an accent?  I could see a
Petruchio, perhaps a Mercutio.  Any others?

Dale Lyles
Newnan Community Theatre Company

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sam Small <
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Date:           Sunday, 9 Mar 2003 00:19:51 -0000
Subject: 14.0423 Re: Shaw on Actors' Accents
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0423 Re: Shaw on Actors' Accents

Thomas Larque is correct in that the modern RP is a cleaned up London
accent.  But it is still not location specific - except for Broadcasting
House.  It is still not an accent of the people.  However, it is, even
today, considered authoritative.

After much thought I come to the conclusion that accent prejudice rules
the day.  America, like Australia and New Zealand, was founded by
working class people.  An aristocracy quickly grew but the roots were
there for all to see and revere.  From lowly folks such as Southern
English Quakers, Dutch, German, Irish and others came the distinctive
American accent - and the aristocratic American accent wasn't much
different.  England was almost the opposite.  From 1066 for three
hundred years the aristocratic language was French - even the courts
spoke exclusively French.  After time everyone spoke English but the
mark was made.  Upper and lower origins were quite different with
opposing aspirations.  I don't know if the original Globe performances
used different accents - but it is easy to imagine that they did.  The
high and low born lines are markedly different in many ways.  Therefore,
I attest, that the problem with American accents performing Shakespeare
is that we instinctively hear a working class echo coming from a King's
mouth - and it ceases to be credible. However, if true authority was
superimposed upon the American accent we might neutralise the effect.
Imagine Colin Powell performing the "To be or not to be" speech and
you'll see what I mean.  Now imagine Danny deVito doing it.  Both have
similar accents - but with completely different audience expectations.
Quite how one would achieve this task with unknown actors is difficult -
but possible.  However, adopting an RP accent to play Shakespeare is a
cheap trick but the whole subject of English language accents remains a
serious problem.

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

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