What Shakespeare hath wrought…

SkyHarbor, 2012/12/09 

I have written several times (semi-reverentially) on our English language and William Shakespeare’s not inconsiderable impact on it. I’ve also commented on Shakespeare’s own accent/dialect of Warwickshire circa 1590 and how he freely used regional accents and idioms to make many of his puns and rhymes (many quite bawdy) ‘work’.

We almost always hear Shakespeare today in a rather haughty ‘BBC’ or ‘received pronunciation’ (‘RP’) version of English, losing much of the flavour and often even the sense of what the master dramatist of all time was attempting to convey!

Many of Shakespeare’s best rhymes and puns simply don’t ‘scan’ in modern RP.

The folks at the new Globe theatre in London have attempted to remedy this situation by producing some of the plays in ‘Original Pronunciation’ (‘OP’)… to widely positive reviews and audience response.


  1. SkyHarbor wrote,

    Some commentary and good examples from the excellent BBC/PBS series “The Story of English”:

    Finally, here’s the prologue to Henry V again (and again with the marvelous Derek Jacobi as narrator) from Kenneth Branagh’s 1989 film production:

    Comment on 2012/12/09 @ 2:54 pm

  2. byronius wrote,

    A few years ago I read my way through his collected works. Two months in, the language came to life. Six months in, I was reading it like a modern screenplay, and it was so damned good, it kind of freaked me out.

    My son never hesitates to remind me that William S. Burroughs loved to use a picture of Shakespeare for target practice.

    Comment on 2012/12/09 @ 11:52 pm

  3. SkyHarbor wrote,

    I also enjoy WSB’s irreverent tinkerings with English, although I was unaware of WS’s visage being used for (I mildly assume dartboard) target practice!

    Shakespeare did far more than ‘tinker’ of course. His English (ca. late 16th century) was a language in dramatic flux – ‘weedy’ and wild. As such he was able to get away with much more ‘customising’ than anyone before or since… with the possible exception of James Joyce’s “Finnegan’s Wake”.

    Beyond his uncanny ability to ‘plumb the depths’ of the human soul, both male and female, Shakespeare demonstrated a new versatility, playfulness, depth and sheer vivacity that, along with the King James Bible (1604-1611) paved the path that led directly to the most widely known and used language in the world today.

    Here is the “A Muse of Fire” episode (in its entirety) from “The Story of English”, glued together as a playlist. Well worth the time, methinks!:

    Comment on 2012/12/10 @ 10:01 am

  4. byronius wrote,

    Watched the video, finally — love the OP, and how it affects meaning. That was a great demonstration. Chilling, man.

    Comment on 2012/12/10 @ 6:18 pm

  5. Max wrote,

    Yes, I dug it too.

    Comment on 2012/12/10 @ 7:14 pm

  6. Max wrote,

    One thing I caught much better in the second viewing with Sofi was the closeness between Father and Son built on their shared passion for linguistics. Found myself wondering if Jeremy and I could ever share a grand career passion like that and then it occurred to me I’d have to find one first 😉

    Comment on 2012/12/12 @ 3:13 am

  7. Max wrote,

    Re the Jacobi in comment 1, I love Jacobi and found his delivery brilliant as always but after the OP stuff I had this new-found sense that he was doing something wrong. All hoity toity and such, not hunkered down and looking in our eyes. I’d love to see the young guy from the video do Hamlet or something in OP.

    Comment on 2012/12/12 @ 3:17 am

  8. SkyHarbor wrote,

    Shakespeare in the ‘Original’ is as frivolous as a young girl’s choice of earrings, as wise-ass and off-colour as a bawdy-house… and as serious as a heart attack.

    Comment on 2012/12/12 @ 7:06 am

  9. SkyHarbor wrote,

    Sir Derek (Knighted in 1994) is wonderful in almost anything he appears in, on stage or on ‘philome’. He even did a turn in ‘Doctor Who’… I fondly recall his work in the “Cadfael” TV series, shown state-side on PBS.

    His prologue to ‘Henry V’ is notable for it’s ‘giveaway’ of the backstage studio setting, which I found quite arresting.

    But, as with nearly all Shakespearean actors of his generation, raised in AWE of Sir Lawrence Olivier, Jacobi uses the ‘standard’ RP accent he was trained in.

    The ‘Original Pronunciation’ is MOST refreshing!

    BTW: can you imagine WS’s ‘Scottish play’ ‘MacBeth’ done in 400 year old Scots?!

    Comment on 2012/12/12 @ 7:55 am

  10. Max wrote,

    I fondly recall his work in the “Cadfael” TV series…

    That’s how I know him. Still haven’t seen I, Claudius but it’s long been in my plans.

    ‘MacBeth’ done in 400 year old Scots

    That’d be awesome, though I would probably need subtitles.

    Comment on 2012/12/12 @ 9:44 am

  11. SkyHarbor wrote,

    I as well, Laddie!

    Comment on 2012/12/12 @ 10:05 am

  12. byronius wrote,

    MacBeth done in the original Pictish would be even more enlightening, I think.

    Comment on 2012/12/12 @ 10:36 am

  13. SkyHarbor wrote,

    No doubt – were Pictish still extant in the time the play purports to portray (11th century)… alas, it was not. Most Scots of that era spoke Gaelic (‘Gallic’). Precious few spoke any ‘English’ (the ‘Middle English’ of Chaucer) at that time… just sayin’.

    Comment on 2012/12/12 @ 10:55 am

  14. Max wrote,

    You mean no actual words, just nude, blue-painted tattooed maniacs screaming and murderously charging at each other?

    Just playing into the stereotype. The ancestral MacKinnons and Howards were highly refined ladies and gentlemen who conversed daily on matters of philosophy and aesthetics I am sure. I am proud to be descended from these fine specimens of humanity.

    Nothing like the barbarous Germanic hordes across the channel.

    Comment on 2012/12/12 @ 10:57 am

  15. SkyHarbor wrote,

    Just hire some WWF rowdies and vouchsafe them a dram or three? 😉

    (and at the time, the ‘Germanic Hordes’ were the Norman French!)

    Comment on 2012/12/12 @ 11:07 am

  16. byronius wrote,

    Since I am reading yet another history of Germany, I shall not disagree with your racial slur.

    There’s this one hilarious moment — The German Chancellor, Bethman-Hollweg, decides after the cleverly-orchestrated downfall of Falkenhayn to appoint Hindenburg as the military commander, with Ludendorff as his Chief Of Staff. His reasoning was that only Hindenburg could convince the conservatives to allow a negotiated peace.

    The book then states something like: “Never in the history of Germany was there a more serious miscalculation.” Which is, godDAMNED, really saying something.

    Hindenburg was an alright guy, though. Gave Hitler power, sure, and disastrously let Ludendorff make all the critical decisions, sure, but the man could pack down some serious calories at lunch. Gotta give him that.

    Ludendorff. The paragraph in the book that describes his exit from the WWI stage is just so comical. Apparently, after panicking and declaring that Germany could not survive another twenty-four hours of conflict, autocratically declared Germany’s first democracy (to appease Wilson’s demands), and then fled to Sweden disguised in fake whiskers and blue spectacles.

    He would re-surface much later, of course, to accuse others of his own actions (Teabilly much?), to spread the ‘stab-in-the-back’ legend, and to march alongside Adolf during the Beer Hall Putsch.

    What a pair, Hindenburg and Ludendorff. Perfect examples of the Teutonic dualism — iron-willed and nervously insecure, strategically-gifted and incredibly stupid, nobly emotionless and pathetically hyper-romantic.

    They were only directly responsible for millions of deaths. Sheesh, c’mon, give ’em a break.

    On a different note: Bad Dog Names #1 — ‘Hitler’.

    ‘Hitler, come back here! Hitler! Bad Hitler!’

    Comment on 2012/12/12 @ 11:27 am

  17. byronius wrote,

    I have officially hijacked this thread in the name of the German Republic.

    Comment on 2012/12/12 @ 12:13 pm

  18. SkyHarbor wrote,

    byronius: As a ‘racial slur’, I’d call ‘Germanic Hordes’ pretty innocuous as compared to the rich list of monikers used by Britain and the rest of Europe over the centuries! Besides, I was only quoting Max referring to a time LONG before there even WAS a ‘Germany’!

    Your psych profile though is damned close to the mark!
    Mozart, Goethe, Beethoven, Euler, Hilbert, Einstein, Gödel… Hitler???

    Bad Dog names #2? – “Jesus Christ” ? “Mein Fuhrer” ?

    Comment on 2012/12/12 @ 12:40 pm

  19. byronius wrote,

    “Fuck Off”?

    Speaking of Ludwig, I have been freaking out over this bit — the second movement of Symphony 7, Allegretto —

    So fucking powerful. Weird that it’s so powerful. Perfect end-of-the-world score, man.

    Comment on 2012/12/12 @ 2:46 pm

  20. Max wrote,

    I like “Shit”. Here, Shit! Sit, Shit!

    Oh, the Ludwig Van is brilliant of course.

    Shit, roll over!

    Comment on 2012/12/12 @ 4:24 pm

  21. SkyHarbor wrote,

    ‘Fuck Off’? – No, not at all! See what happens when you read all that German scheisse? You start getting paranoid and hijacking post threads! 😉

    Oh! You meant bad dog names! Colour me S-L-O-W !! ‘Fetch’?

    What’s weird is that Ludwig van marked that 2nd movement ‘Allegretto’ – indicating (to me anyway) something rather light and even ‘playful’… that may come through in a couple of ‘lightish’ moments, but overall, that’s pretty heavy stuff! Even with a fairly formidable fugue in the 2nd half. In addition, although the symphony is in A major, the 2nd movement is in A minor – again lending gravity.

    Gorgeous though!

    Mozart is perfect (and rather inhuman – to me), but Ludwig van is always VERY human – every note seems to be sweated out and agonised over. Good choice, byronius!

    Comment on 2012/12/12 @ 4:40 pm

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