Lingua Franca is usually a teriffic little program, yet another hidden gem on our great national broadcaster. Being in bed with a nasty wog (so to speak) I taped and then listened to this week’s episode at some time in the wee small hours. It really has to be heard so if you want to, put aside 15 minutes some time and click here.
It’s odd isn’t it that with the craze for ‘original instruments’ in music, it’s taken so long for the idea of doing Shakespeare in the kind of accent current at his time to take hold. I guess one important reason is a commercial one – anxiety about people being able to decipher what’s being said on stage.
I was sceptical that this kind of thing could be done – how can you know how things were pronounced then? And also of course there were lots of accents then as now presumably, so which one is one talking about?
In any event, this subject was discussed, and with the explanation given about what evidence was used I was happy with the ‘expert’s’ assertion that they reckoned they were 80% accurate – or 80% sure of being accurate or some such.
Apart from the intrinsic (if you like antiquarian) interest in this this, the new method allows the uncovering of puns long missed and allows for the recovery of characters. The British have been very unkind to their greatest playwright by inventing in the 19th Century various absurd accents to convey the notion that respectability is the higest of all virtues – and possibly the only one. These are the accents that the British now do Shakespeare in. Now there are many themes in Shakespeare but respectability is fairly well towards the bottom of the list.
Sure enough the actors report that new interpretations of characters become possible in the new accents.