e a m harris

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Archive for the tag “Shakespeare”

Listening to Shakespeare as he really sounded

I sent for the CD I wrote about in a previous post on this subject and have just listened to it.

Before listening I read the accompanying booklet and I’m glad I did (usually I listen first and then find out what I should have known after). It explains what evidence the OP (Original Pronunciation) is based on and describes some possible regional variations of Shakespeare’s time. It also gives pointers as to what to listen for.

To me the accent sounded vaguely Midlandish – not surprising since that was where Shakespeare came from. However, as the booklet’s author (Ben Crystal) points out, it is not exactly like any modern speech.

The disk contains twenty eight tracks from the sonnets and plays, well chosen to cover a range of mood and speaker, and beautifully performed.

A few things surprised me. First was how quickly I adapted to OP. A couple of tracks and it stopped sounding strange. If I ever see a whole play, by the end of the first act I probably won’t notice. Second was that, to my ear anyway, there was no difference between the kings and aristocrats and their servants and followers. Third there were no words I couldn’t understand – I had expected a few instances of ‘what’s that word?’.

I also noticed for the first time how many words in English end in –ion. This was the only feature that leapt out at me for several tracks, as the ending of words like possession, consummation etc were pronounced really differently. After a while I stopped noticing until we got to the extract from Julius Caesar. Antony’s talk with the plebeians contains many repetitions of  the word ‘ambition’ and they poked out of the surrounding speech with a strength and force I’d not noted before. Is this an effect Shakespeare intended? or is it the result of my modern ear?

I can’t say this disk made me reassess any of the plays or sonnets. I have found that any short extract from them, well recorded, can give me that ‘now I really understand that’ thrill. But it is an enjoyable disk and an interesting experience. I look forward to the OP movement spreading and giving us more performances.

For a taster of the disk you can go to The Telegraph review and listen to a snippet of Romeo and Juliet.

The disk is available from the British Library shop.

Shakespeare as he really sounded

I’ve just read the news that The British Library is releasing a CD with excerpts from The Bard’s poems and plays in the original pronunciation. Apparently this is the first commercially available recording of Shakespeare as he really sounded.

Over the years there has been a lot of research and I suppose scholars are getting closer and closer to the true voice of the time. The article on the British Library website doesn’t mention how the research is done.

Years ago I attended a live reading of what was supposed to be Shakespearean pronunciation. It sounded odd but was understandable. The way the plays sound has undoubtedly changed several times over the centuries – what seems odd today may be common tomorrow.

We already have ‘authentic’ performances of old music. Perhaps in the future there’ll be a movement towards ‘authentic speech’ productions of plays.

I am definitely going to buy the CD (available from the British Library Shop); I’m a sucker for any unusual literary items.

The picture is a public domain one from Wikimedia Commons.

‘Who wrote Shakespeare?’ really takes off

The debate over the film Anonymous and its premise that the plays were written by the Earl of Oxford, is spreading and heating up.

In a quick trawl through the web I found newspapers as far apart in space and content as the Los Angeles Times (with an article on students protesting against what they call the ‘discrediting of Shakespeare’) and the Fortean Times (with a lengthy write-up of the history of the Shakespeare Authorship Question – SAQ to those in the know) have taken the question seriously.

I had not thought that anyone outside of a few academics and the inhabitants of Stratford-upon-Avon really cared, but both articles suggest that strong feelings are being aroused in many places.

All of which demonstrates again the cultural power of film over most other art forms. It can even give The Bard himself some serious competition.

‘Anonymous’: a film directed by Roland Emmerich

So the ‘Who wrote Shakespeare?’ debate is being revisited, this time in film.

Anonymous has already raised hackles and interest, and with stars like Derek Jacobi will no doubt be successful as a film.

Whether it’ll encourage anyone to take more interest in the plays is another matter, though Emmerich hopes it will. As he told the BBC, ‘It’s a celebration of his work, and anyone who sees this film, if it encourages young people, or anyone, to revisit these plays, then it’s very important.’

Personally I don’t think it matters who actually wrote the plays. But I lean away from all brands of doubters who display the snobbish attitude that Shakespeare couldn’t be the author because he was lower class and not well educated.

How do they know? An intelligent person who has learned to read and has access to books could become very well educated on his own. ‘Good breeding’ and sitting in a classroom are not essential.

They also claim that Shakespeare did not have the personality to be a great artist. They forget that our idea of ‘artistic temperament’ was born out of the 18th century Romantic Movement. There is no such thing as an artistic type.

I’m sure that there are anti-Stratfordians who have more sensible reasons for their doubts, but they are not, apparently, celebrated in this film.

Having said all this, I shall probably go and see it. Emmerich describes it: ‘It’s a political thriller, it’s a whodunnit, and it’s a homage to theatre and to William Shakespeare’ and I love whodunnits. If I disagree with it that’s no bad thing – I enjoy wallowing in a bit of irritation from time to time.

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