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TOPIC: Shakespearean Pronunciation

Shakespearean Pronunciation 8 years 4 months ago #2045

  • rachaeljs
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Hi,

I am a 3rd year English Language student currently writing my final paper. I have chosen to study the topic of Shakespearean/Elizabethan pronunciation and if it would still work in today's modern theatre? Would it appeal to a contemporary audience.

In June 2004, the Globe did 3 performances of Romeo and Juliet in original pronunciation. It had never been done before and has never been done since. Did any of you see any of these shows? What were your opinions?

Even if you have not seen the performances I refer to and you simply love to watch or participate in Shakespeare, what would you think if they were done in Elizabethan pronunciation? Would you enjoy seeing or acting in something so authentic? or do you prefer them in present-day English?

Any views that you have would be great.

Thanks

Rachael.
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Shakespearean Pronunciation 8 years 4 months ago #2047

  • William Shakespeare
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Hello and welcome!

One of the users here, akfarrar, has put together a sample recreation of what his estimation of original pronunciation might have sounded like here:

http://youtube.com/watch?v=im3cXZPenzQ

My personal take is that resurrecting what can be pieced together as Elizabethan pronunciation is an interesting exercise, but I don't think it makes it more appealing to contemporary audiences. Some of it was actually like modern American speech so it may make certain parts more understandable in that regard. So would it still work? Of course. Would it be preferable? That's debatable.

For those that missed it, the Globe also did a version T&C in OP.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/stor ... Id=4761275
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Shakespearean Pronunciation 8 years 4 months ago #2048

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Don't take my take too seriously - it was a quick experiment (although done seriously enough for my purposes).

What struck me most - and I think struck the 'teenagers' at the op productions who commented , is the op is very like a lot of accents in the UK - it wouldn't particularly stand out as anything too strange.

In fact, several of the sounds are my original accent - where I come from the vowels haven't all shifted.

The de-classing (ie removal of the class distinctive RP) of Shakespeare certainly would increase its chances of success in the UK amongst none-theatre going people - I'm not sure about outside that group.

Another interesting thing though in doing the 'accent' was a subtle change in emphasis and meaning almost - the poem became a much more communicative piece. In fact, it became a better poem.

Someone on my blog commented on the difference in sound making for a difference in feel ... and I feel that that the harsher sounds and stronger resonances make for a more energetic performance ... but a lot more work would need to be done.
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Shakespearean Pronunciation 8 years 4 months ago #2049

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Hi,

Thanks for your replies. They are both really interesting!

What strikes me most about OP is just how accessible it actually is. After reading Crystal's Pronouncing Shakespeare, it seems that many people felt it was going to be like a coompletely different language, not close to PDE in the slightest. And that is why risks had not been taken to do a large scale production in this way before.
In reality, it has resonances of about 12 or 13 accents from Scottish to West Country to American, Canadian and Geordie! To really get to grips with the pronunciation I studied both Cercignani and Kokeritz, whom Crystal looked to to when he himself got stuck when putting together the OP translation for The Globe.

Extracts of his recording can be found at:

http://www.cambridge.org/uk/literature/ ... efault.htm

if you are interested.

akfarrar, I find it fascinating that you feel the removal of social classes in the UK would increase chances of success amongst those who do not attend the theatre regularly. Why do you think this? Do you feel it is just down to social stereotypes and negative connotations that non-regular goers have about the present day shakespearean audience and the plays themselves? Perhaps for this reason, OP is a way to attract a new target audience?

shakespeare, why do you feel it is debatable that the audiences would want to see a performance in it's OP? Isn't it just as important as the costumes or music from the period which accompany the performance? (I do not disagree with you - just trying to get as many views as possible!)

I completely agree that the OP does make the performance seem a little more gritty and harsh. Characters do not seem as fictional, the audience can relate to them because they can hear an accent they are familiar with actually the replacing recieved pronunciation that they are used to.

I find it very interesting that the teenagers who saw the performance commented and picked up on the accents in a big way. Do you think it was because they could relate to them more than if the actor used the conventional 'posh accent'?

Rachael
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Shakespearean Pronunciation 8 years 4 months ago #2050

  • William Shakespeare
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RachaelJS wrote:
shakespeare, why do you feel it is debatable that the audiences would want to see a performance in it's OP? Isn't it just as important as the costumes or music from the period which accompany the performance? (I do not disagree with you - just trying to get as many views as possible!)

To clarify, I don't think it's debatable whether or not audiences would be interested in OP productions. It's an interesting exercise that adds another dimension to a production. But I personally don't think it's a deeper dimension than, let's say, a Wild West version of Taming of the Shrew. In both cases, there will be elements of the story that will be brought out that make it a unique experience. However, how many Wild West versions of Shrew can you sit through? I'd almost relegate OP productions to the "historical gimmick" category.
RachaelJS wrote:
I completely agree that the OP does make the performance seem a little more gritty and harsh. Characters do not seem as fictional, the audience can relate to them because they can hear an accent they are familiar with actually the replacing recieved pronunciation that they are used to.

I agree it makes the performance seem "gritty and harsh," especially since Elizabethans just sound like scurvy pirates to us yanks. But I think there's a mental adjustment that takes place when the audience knows beforehand it will be an OP production. That adjustment surely compensates for the loss of believability.
RachaelJS wrote:
I find it very interesting that the teenagers who saw the performance commented and picked up on the accents in a big way. Do you think it was because they could relate to them more than if the actor used the conventional 'posh accent'?

They were likely responding to the "gimmickry" I mentioned previously. If a speech pattern in a theatrical performance is unique and interesting enough, it becomes catchy. Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man comes to mind.
Last Edit: 8 years 4 months ago by William Shakespeare.
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Shakespearean Pronunciation 8 years 4 months ago #2051

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As I post this... our news feed on the home page picked up Hoffman and Rain Man.. :)

http://breakingnews.iol.ie/entertainmen ... =z547y35x4
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Shakespearean Pronunciation 8 years 4 months ago #2052

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Re: Social Class and the Theatre - I was commenting specifically on de-classing 'Shakespeare' - the very concept of posh-Shakespeare I think, which not only includes the supposedly classless RP (strange - nearly every actor who goes through RADA mentions the need to loose their regional twangs and acquire Radaspeak) but also dressing for the big occasion - penguin suits for Shakespeare - and all those 'Royals' in the Shakespeare Theatre world (Shakespeare Company, National Theatre, - even my ex-local Exchange in Manchester).
This is perception rather than reality.
Teenagers being dragged to a theatre performance usually soon break this perception - not least because of the work done by acting companies to make their productions communicate. I just think the op is one possible aid in this 'break the barrier' action.
I am reminded of the 'authenticity' debates over serious music - Bach on a harpsichord vs piano; gut stringed violins; original pronunciation of languages in song: The overall effect being to widen performance styles, see new things in the music - and expand the audience for early music.
Strangely enough, it was a movement linked to the 'authenticity' debates in Rock Music - and at least one writer has suggested the 'Youth Culture' norm of originality directly fed into the serious music debate.
I see a potentially similar effect here - this is the REAL Shakespeare (it isn't - but then neither was the vast majority of Rock Music). Added to that the very existence of the Globe Theatre on the Southbank-(which took an upstart American to build) and a trend in modern Shakespeare production seems to be developing.
What will never be achievable - and is futile to attempt - is an authentic performance of Shakespeare in the sense that we are not an Elizabethan audience, our concerns are not the same, our understanding of the world is different.
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Shakespearean Pronunciation 8 years 4 months ago #2059

  • shakespeareinlove
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I think the play should be performed in Elizabethan language in order to capture the language of the time period. I think people today would be able to understand the language if they have read one of Shakespeare's plays.
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