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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: April ::
Accent
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0266  Monday, 3 April 2006

From: 		Jonathan Hope <
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Date: 		Monday, 3 Apr 2006 13:55:30 +0100
Subject: 17.0255 Accent (Was Henry IV, Part 1 Query)
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0255 Accent (Was Henry IV, Part 1 Query)

Thomas Larque quite rightly focuses on Edgar in King Lear with regard to 
accent:

 >I wonder what part Edgar's transformation in "King Lear" might play in
 >informing this debate?  Edgar clearly makes a shift in accents in order
 >to become a peasant, and then accidentally starts to shift back.  His
 >father tells him "Methinks thy voice is alter'd; and thou speak'st / In
 >better phrase and matter than thou didst" and "Methinks you're better
 >spoken". When confronted by Oswald, Edgar goes into a special "peasant"
 >accent and what certainly seems like a regional dialect.

I think it is interesting that Edgar's 'Poor Tom' persona does *not* 
have a transliterated accent.  The persona seems to be marked by a shift 
into prose - when he slips back into verse it is this that his father 
notices (and the change in 'matter' - which I take to be content).

With Oswald, Edgar uses a stereotyped stage peasant accent, which 
editors have tracked through various other plays, and which linguists 
have noted contains elements of Kentish (South East) and South Western 
dialects (in other words, it is a literary device which cannot be 
identified with any one region).

I suspect that Shakespeare lifts the accent from a strikingly similar 
episode in Golding's Metamorphoses, where Mercury poses as a herdsman. 
Although the modern editions of King Lear I've looked at regularly 
reference other plays at this point in the text, I haven't so far found 
anyone linking Lear to the Golding.  It's hard to believe that I'm the 
first person to have noticed this - does anyone know of an earlier 
report of this?

Anyway, I think the 'Kentich' Edgar uses here is primarily marked for 
+rural (as linguists would have it) rather than -upper class.  Of 
course, there are class implications, but I don't think they are meant 
to be as salient as the court/country, urban/rural opposition of 
Edgar/Oswald here.

Jonathan Hope
Strathclyde University, Glasgow

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