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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: March ::
Re: Shaw on Actors' Accents
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0474  Thursday, 13 March 2003

[1]     From:   Dana Shilling <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 12 Mar 2003 11:01:52 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0464 Re: Shaw on Actors' Accents

[2]     From:   Ted Dykstra <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 12 Mar 2003 11:40:14 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0464 Re: Shaw on Actors' Accents

[3]     From:   Robin Hamilton <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 12 Mar 2003 17:00:35 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0464 Re: Shaw on Actors' Accents

[4]     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 12 Mar 2003 22:23:43 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.0464 Re: Shaw on Actors' Accents


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Dana Shilling <
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 >
Date:           Wednesday, 12 Mar 2003 11:01:52 -0500
Subject: 14.0464 Re: Shaw on Actors' Accents
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0464 Re: Shaw on Actors' Accents

James Doyle said:

>if I direct a production of
>Blood Wedding in translation, should everyone have Spanish accents?

No, of course not--what we call "a Spanish accent" is "someone whose
first language is Spanish speaking English." A production of Blood
Wedding uses the convention that the English translation really "is"
Spanish, so everyone speaks "perfectly." However, if the play involves
class or regional conflicts, it might make sense to have "Oxbridge" and
"Cockney" accents as an English equivalent.

In Casablanca, for instance, Rick is a native English speaker, Ilsa,
Karl, etc., are not, so they have "accents"--no doubt Rick has an
American accent when he speaks French.

Dana Shilling

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ted Dykstra <
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Date:           Wednesday, 12 Mar 2003 11:40:14 EST
Subject: 14.0464 Re: Shaw on Actors' Accents
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0464 Re: Shaw on Actors' Accents

Considering how many words clearly rhymed in Shakespeare's time and no
longer rhyme now, it is clear that no accent is close to what
Shakespeare actually heard his actors speak. I have heard and read that
Newfoundland, Canada is perhaps as close as we can get.

The main benefit to "English" accents today is, unfortunate though it
is, the immediate revealing of a character's class, at least for an
English audience.  Outside of England it is completely unnecessary.
Class distinction, though slightly on the wane, is still of huge
importance there, it has a deeper meaning, I suppose. The question I was
asked by English people most frequently when performing in the West End
was "what does your father do?", I surmise because they could then still
tell what class I was from, as my accent (Canadian) did not give that
away.

Ted Dykstra

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robin Hamilton <
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Date:           Wednesday, 12 Mar 2003 17:00:35 -0000
Subject: 14.0464 Re: Shaw on Actors' Accents
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0464 Re: Shaw on Actors' Accents

D Bloom <
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 > writes,

>>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.

Caxton, I think, is the first to raise the question:

"Loo what sholde a man in thyse days now wryte, egges or eyren?
Certaynly, it is harde to playse eurey man by cause of dyuersite &
chaunge of langage. For in these dayes euery man that is in ony
reputacyon in his countre wyll vtter his commynycacyon and matters in
such maners & terms that fewe men shall vunderstonde theym. And som
honest and grete clerkes haue been wyth me and desired me to wryte the
most curyous termes that I coude fynde."

RP is noted as early as Puttenham:

"... ye shall therfore take the vsuall speach of the Court, and that of
London and the shires lying about London within lx. myles, and not much
aboue."

... which would just-about take in Oxford and Cambridge -- town, not
necessarily gown.

Technically, this is the East Midlands Norm.

Robin Hamilton

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Wednesday, 12 Mar 2003 22:23:43 -0500
Subject: 14.0464 Re: Shaw on Actors' Accents
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0464 Re: Shaw on Actors' Accents

Appropriate theatrical accents are the ones that work to please the
audience and help it follow the play.

Shakespeare himself seems to have understood that accents are cultural
shorthand: they arouse socioeconomic expectations, which may or may not
then be confirmed.

Doing *King Lear* for American audiences in upper-class British accents
is reassuring: it confirms the expectation that the production is a
piece of High Culture, to be uncritically admired as such, and certainly
not to be connected in any immediate way with the actual lives of the
members of the audience.  Even if it were not politically and
emotionally debilitating for most spectators, it is a problematic way to
go at production in an age when only a few actors, even in the UK, have
been trained to speak that speech.

On another hand, a production of the play in the early 80s for North
American spectators at Stratford, Ontario, which set it in the American
West a century ago (Ponderosa, Manitoba, mind you, not California or
even Wyoming) might have had a chance to make those connections.  But
those accents reminded us (me, anyway) inescapably of John Wayne and
Randolph Scott and Jimmy Stewart - not very articulate, not very
self-conscious men on whom the highly articulate and self-conscious
speeches of Lear and Edmund and Edgar sat as awkwardly as top hats.  And
I found the high plains speech theatrically ineffective.  It's
phonetically thin.  It's my own native accent; In the 55 years since I
left Colorado I've mostly replaced it with one of those awful
mid-Atlantic academic-artistic pastiches, and I revert to it mostly when
I'm tired or a little drunk or talking to my brother who lives in Idaho
and has hung on to the ancestral speech.  But when I do talk that way I
am aware of producing tones mostly in the high front part of the vocal
chambers - upper register, nasal, thin vowels and lightly voiced
consonants.  Not something that works very well to convey complex ideas
and emotions to the people at the back of a big theater with much force.

An RSC production of *Much Ado* (1977-78), with Judi Dench as Beatrice,
conceived of Messina, in relation to the Florence of Claudio, the Padua
of Benedick, the Rome or wherever it is of Beatrice, the Aragon of Don
Pedro, as a third-world colony- late C19 India, to be precise - to which
Leonato had been sent as governor.  They did the watch in different
accents - Peter Sellers South Asian, to be precise, with turbans and
immense lances.  It was pretty funny at the time to all of us in the
audience (close to 100 %, I suppose) who were not south Asians.  And I
conveyed a steep social gradient very quickly and unequivocally.  Both
productions are much less likely to happen in 2003, of course.  We're a
long way from those westerns, and most of us who go regularly to the
theater have been schooled to be sensitive to the sensitivities of
minority cultures.

All of which tells me that although (at least until the valley girls
have succeeded in their plan to take over the phonetic universe)
regional and social accents continue to be significant features of
theatrical production, there is no easy rule to govern their use: actors
and directors and writers will have to consider carefully the audiences
they address.  And that holds, I believe, as much for Noel Coward as it
does for William Shakespeare.

Phonetically,
David Evett

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