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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: July ::
Romeo and Juliet Original Pronunciation
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1467  Thursday, 22 July 2004

From:           David Crystal <
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Date:           Wednesday, 21 Jul 2004 13:23:51 +0100
Subject:        Romeo and Juliet Original Pronunciation

I just noticed a thread going about the OP performances at the Globe
recently. Various points arise.

First, if anyone wants an e-copy of the piece I wrote for Around the
Globe, I'll happily send them one.

Re Ian's comment. In the talkback sessions after each performance, it
was interesting to note that members of the audience heard the
resonances they were familiar with, from all kinds of accent
backgrounds. Some heard West Country, some Irish, and so on. This is
because elements of each of these accents can be found in OP, but no
modern accent reflects them all. Accent is indeed in the ear of the
beholder.

Re Ben: The half-hour of helicopter on the Saturday was a disaster
indeed, and really put the actors off, as they told me afterwards. They
recovered, though.  (There was a lightning storm on the Sunday, to
contend with!)

There was certainly no 'smothering' of the actors' voices. On the
contrary, as Will says, they were encouraged to let their own accent
influence the OP. The stress was very much on diversity, just as it
would have been on stage in 1600. So, for example, there were hints of
Juliet's native Scots on top of her OP.

Re Kathy: there was no homogenous accent in Shakespeare's time, and
there was no attempt to impose one in this production. On the contrary,
I took pains to reflect what we know about pronunciation change and
diversity at the time in my transcription - I gave the older characters
a more conservative accent, for example, and made the upper-class
characters different from the servants. Yes, there's an element of
speculation in all of this, just as there is for other areas of original
practices work. I reckon we can be about 80 per cent certain about it.

Re Roger: yes, precisely those 'virile' effects were commented upon. The
commonest description of the accent was 'earthy'. Other audience words
were 'natural, 'accessible' - vigorous' too. Some London kids at the
Saturday afternoon performance said to me 'Hey, they speak like us'. The
actors weren't actually using a Cockney accent, but I knew what the kids
meant. They meant the actors weren't using the posh RP accent which the
kids were used to hearing and which they evidently found so distancing.

The Nurse (played by a man, Bette Bourne) told me afterwards that he
found himself playing the character as a tougher woman, in OP. I have a
number of comments of this kind, from some of the actors, about how it
changed their performance, and will be writing them up in due course.

The pronunciation was also much faster than we usually hear, because I
gave full value to the reduced forms of words - 'trippingly', indeed.
The OP performances were 10 minutes shorter than the previous ones.

Were the actors prepared? Well, they didn't know about the OP idea when
they were cast, and they had only four weeks to master the whole thing,
and I think they did brilliantly. Some were not very consistent, but all
managed the main features. Some of them were as perfect as I could hear
- I could hardly fault Kananu Kirami (Juliet), for example. In
interviews afterwards, they told me how difficultit was to stop the
accent slipping into a pastiche West Country. With more time, that
wouldn't have been a problem.

They enjoyed it so much that a bigger problem was not using OP afterwards!


Who was behind the project? Well, it was Tim Carroll's (the director)
idea. He had first suggested it for the anniversary Twelfth Night two
years ago, but the Globe backed off. They took the plunge this year.
They were all scared that OP would be unintelligible to the modern ear,
and audiences would stop coming - which is why they dipped their toe in
the water, only, and did just three performances. In fact, of course, OP
is extremely intelligible. The differences between Early Modern English
and Modern English are not that great - and certainly no greater than,
say, between modern Scots and RP. So they were very happy to hear the
result. And there is talk of doing a whole run of a play next year. That
would be good.

The Globe approached me in December, and I worked on it during the first
months of this year. The responsibility for all aspects of the OP is
mine. I devised a special transcription, a mix of traditional
orthography and phonetics, which I hoped would be reasonably 'friendly'
to work with. I introduced it to them and gave them feedback after some
of the rehearsals. There was a dialect coach, Charmian Hoare, working
individually with the actors in the meantime. There was lots of
discussion of the dramaturgical implications. It wasn't just a
linguistic experiment.

Re Ward: The Globe did make a recording in-house, for archive purposes,
as they do for all their productions. This stays in-house. Even I
haven't got one!  I don't think they have any plans for a commercial
sale, but I'll make sure the suggestion reaches the management. I did do
a personal recording of the whole play, partly to convince myself that
it was working, and partly as an aide-memoire for the actors.

I hope this helps clarify some things. This was such an exciting
historical moment, I felt, that I'm currently writing a short book
telling the whole story of the event. It will be called The Original
Pronunciation Experiment, and it will be out with Cambridge University
Press (at least, I hope so - deal still being sorted) before the start
of the next Globe season. At least, that's the plan. In the meantime,
there is a short follow-up piece in the next issue of Around the Globe.

All the best,
David

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