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This chapter carries out a critical survey of early modern attitudes to English accents and dialects in order to show how effectively Shakespeare and his contemporaries activated their connotations in performance and how marked voices lent local resonance and social specificity to their characters and to the fictive world of their plays. Despite their lower prestige, English accents and dialects other than the emerging standard known as the ‘King’s English’, or ‘usual speech’, had wider and more varied dramaturgical functions than merely serving as comic caricature of specific social types. In fact, closer attention to a selection of plays – some of which are discussed at greater length in mini case-studies embedded in the central section of this chapter – produces radically new readings of well-known characters and plays, including Sir Hugh Evans in The Merry Wives of Windsor or Edgar in King Lear. This chapter also reconsiders how early modern anti-theatricalists were particularly concerned about the actor’s voice and its ability to reproduce high- and low-rank accents and phonetic registers.
This chapter establishes a link between the rise in foreign Shakespeare performed on the English stage from the opening of Peter Daubeny’s World Theatre Seasons at the Aldwych in London in 1964 to the Complete Works Season and the World Shakespeare Festival that took place under the auspices of the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2006–7 and in 2012 and the emergence of regional and foreign accents in contemporary Shakespearean performance. This chapter shows how leading national companies are responding to the acoustic diversity introduced by visiting companies during these two major festival seasons. While recent studies on Shakespeare in contemporary performance have focused on the influence of international traditions that draw freely from ‘music, dance and the visual arts in one confident arc, … in total contrast to the text-based British theatre’ (de Wend Fenton and Neal, 2005: 16), I am instead interested in establishing how ‘Global Shakespeare’ is changing the aural dimensions of ‘English Shakespeare’ and, as a result, Shakespeare’s association with traditional ideals of ‘Englishness’.
The introduction explains why the topic of this book is timely, how other scholars have started to investigate the materiality and the modulations of the voice as a process through which national, regional, social and personal identities are constantly (re)constituted. The introduction also explains the need to reconstruct past attitudes to national, regional and class accents in Shakespearean performance in order to gain a historical perspective and a better grasps of the politics that inform the production and reception of marked, or inflected, voices in Shakespeare in contemporary performance.
This chapter investigates the rise of scholarly interest in Early English Pronunciation and, along with it, of research and experimental performances in Shakespeare in Original Pronunciation. While the recent surge in Original Pronunciation productions at Shakespeare’s Globe has been well documented by David Crystal, the history of Shakespeare in Original Pronunciation is still largely under-investigated. Similarly, while early modern original theatrical practices have well-known precursors in theatre-makers like William Poel, pioneering experiments with Shakespeare in Original Pronunciation are fairly obscure. However, these early experiments with Shakespeare in Original Pronunciation are important because they offered an alternative to the otherwise absolute and uncontested acoustic norms associated with Received Pronunciation and Standard Pronunciation which still dominated the first half of the twentieth century. This chapter focuses on a selection of such experiments, ranging from BBC radio programmes produced by Mary Hope Allen in the 1930s and 1940s to a production of Macbeth staged at the Mermaid Theatre in London in 1952. This chapter also identifies two different traditions in early experiments with Original Pronunciation, one that exploits the legitimizing function associated with the accent believed to have been originally spoken on Shakespeare’s stage and the other that aims instead to entertain and develop new audiences for Shakespeare.
Voices and accents are increasingly perceived as central markers of identity in Shakespearean performance. This book presents a history of the reception of Shakespeare on the English stage with a focus on the vocal dimensions of theatrical performance. The chapters identify key moments when English accents have caused controversy, if not public outrage. Sonia Massai examines the cultural connotations associated with different accents and how accents have catalysed concerns about national, regional and social identities that are (re)constituted in and through Shakespearean performance. She argues that theatre makers and reformers, elocutionists and historical linguists, as well as directors, actors and producers have all had a major impact on how accents have evolved and changed on the Shakespearean stage over the last four hundred years. This fascinating book offers a rich historical survey alongside close performance analysis.
The conclusion considers how the principles currently informing the allocation of public funding to theatre are having little impact on encouraging acoustic diversity on the Shakespearean stage, especially in Shakespearean production recently staged by large National Portfolio Organizations (NPOs), such as the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre. A statistically insignificant amount of public funding is currently invested in supporting smaller companies or independent projects, which seem better placed to diversity the soundscape of Shakespeare in performance.
This chapter focuses on David Garrick as the most important catalyst for acoustic change in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. His naturalistic style of acting has often been discussed within the wider context of the Enlightment. Largely overlooked, though, is the impact of his voice, which was notoriously marked by regional inflections, and of his debut as Richard III in one of London's illegitimate theatres, on two important movements, led by two men, both called John Palmer. These two movements aimed to widen access to Shakespeare by obtaining licences for regional theatres and by encouraging non-professional actors, amateurs and enthusiasts from lower-status social groups to perform Shakespeare in non-conventional venues, ranging from minor or private theatres, to smaller performance houses and song and supper clubs.