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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: March ::
Re: Shaw on Actors' Accents
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0464  Wednesday, 11 March 2003

[1]     From:   John W. Kennedy <
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 >
        Date:   Tuesday, 11 Mar 2003 14:16:32 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0445 Re: Shaw on Actors' Accents

[2]     From:   Dale Lyles <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 11 Mar 2003 18:12:14 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0445  Re: Shaw on Actors' Accents

[3]     From:   James Doyle <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 12 Mar 2003 13:02:26 -0000
        Subj:   Actors' Accents


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John W. Kennedy <
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Date:           Tuesday, 11 Mar 2003 14:16:32 -0500
Subject: 14.0445 Re: Shaw on Actors' Accents
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0445 Re: Shaw on Actors' Accents

D Bloom <
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 > writes,

>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.

But many of Shakespeare's plays are set in other countries.  What of
them?

>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?

Oxford and Cambridge Universities -- not Oxfordshire and Cambridgeshire.
And I believe that element came into play only in the 19th century.At
any rate, (feeling a bit of a frisson at bringing up his name) the Earl
of Oxford's spelling indicates that he had a rather strong East Anglian
accent, so there's at least one nobleman of the period who did not speak
"Court" English.

I would agree that Shakespeare ought not to be done in a silly accent.
Othello should not sound like Leo Gorcey.  And I'd agree that the plays
actually set in England should be done with a British accent, or at
least with an accent viewed as neutral by the auditors (news-anchor
midwestern, in the contemporary USA).  There's no sense in burdening the
audience with cognitive dissonance.

As someone whose adult experience as a performer has been largely
limited to opera and Renaissance faire, I'd add that an overall
"British" sound is less taxing to the voice.  (And I confess that the
woman who does the Chlorox Readi-Mop commercial literally makes my
eyeballs hurt.)

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Dale Lyles <
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Date:           Tuesday, 11 Mar 2003 18:12:14 EST
Subject: 14.0445  Re: Shaw on Actors' Accents
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0445  Re: Shaw on Actors' Accents

Don Bloom writes:

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

Aye, there's the rub.  Would I rather have had fully trained voices at
my disposal?  Sure. Did I?  Almost never.  So my choices were to pursue
artistic truth with people who were willing to make that pursuit with me
into the richest territory of our language, and to benefit ourselves and
our audiences thereby, or sit in the corner and cry heigh-ho for an
accent.

It's curious, but now that Don has brought the issue up, I realize that
it's true that not once did I ever link the plays we did to England!
Not even--and this is really interesting--when we did Henry VI, Part
Three.  Yes, we were fully aware that it was English history (revised),
and the cast went to great lengths to familiarize themselves with the
period, but on the whole we regarded it as a whacking great soap opera
with all the attendant major themes: money, sex, and power.  And of
course blood bags.

I suspect this detachment from "Englishness" is why we all do
Shakespeare, and so few of us do Dryden.

Dale Lyles
Newnan Community Theatre Company

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           James Doyle <
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Date:           Wednesday, 12 Mar 2003 13:02:26 -0000
Subject:        Actors' Accents

How are we to judge what is an appropriate accent for a character in a
play?  The only criterion I feel which can be validly applied - and it
can work on both sides of the argument - is does the choice of accent
(or non-accent) interfere with our appreciation of the play?

While refusal to do the 'authentic' accent can be a problem in a play
with a very definite setting - Tennessee Williams is a good example, as
Don Bloom points out - it can also be a barrier, if your audience is
unfamiliar with that accent, or even problematic to achieve; having
recently done The Crucible, with a British cast, we deliberately did it
without accents as there is very little evidence as to what New England
accents would have been like at the time.  To do it in modern American
accents would have been just as false as to use our own voices.  Indeed,
how far are we to go with this process - if I direct a production of
Blood Wedding in translation, should everyone have Spanish accents?

I also find it a huge barrier to a play when I hear accents done badly,
as in a recent production of A View from a Bridge, where what
Americanisms there were, were - even to my British ear - not New York,
and one actor had an accent that wandered over much of Europe.

Having recently directed a production of The Taming of the Shrew, with a
defiantly Yorkshire Petruchio (it's his birth accent, not put on), I can
say it chimed well with the character and the way it was played, and
contrasted nicely with a RP-spoken Katherine.  But perhaps she should
have had an Italian accent?

James Doyle

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