Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Americans Shouldn’t Do Shakespeare

“Say you are an idiot.  Now, say you are Nicholas Cage.  But I repeat myself.”

With apologies to Mark Twain and none to Mr. Cage comes this story about the latter’s opinion on why Americans should not do Shakespeare:

"There is something about it. I feel the rhythm of the English language and manner of English speech seem to work effectively with William Shakespeare but when Americans do it, something seems stuck."

Now you may be saying to yourself, “The Leaving Las Vegas guy?  Moonstruck?  He won some awards, didn’t he?  Son on Francis Ford Coppola? I suppose he’s entitled to his opinion.”

Wrong Nicholas Cage.  We’re talking about this guy:

 

Oh, wait.  Same guy.  My bad.  

Turns out there’s at least one American than shouldn’t do Shakespeare, I’ll give him that.

Oh God. The bees.

5 comments:

JM said...

He's not the only one with the opinion-- nor the only one who shouldn't attempt it, in my opinion.

Gee, what is it about those cool British accents that have nothing at all to do with successfully speaking Shakespeare's words? Must be SOMETHING--right? What a lame--and Lazy-- excuse.

Elizabethans sounded nothing at all like the upper-crusty dialect that evolved hundreds of years later. Presumably, they had no trouble with it.
For most British actors, the focus begins on Speaking and The Words, the Text and HOW it's said, which is why most of them can make the transfer from the ocean (stage) to the fishbowl (camera lens).

American actors are almost exclusively trained in (and trained to worship in an almost cult-like way) "The Method"--which has no regard for the words--and in fact, instructs its trainees to disregard them
and simply "feel" the reality of what they might be saying. The words come as the stepchild afterthought. Which is why very few of them can swim the ocean, and most have to breathe the continually reconstituted stale air of the fishbowl.

"Just ad-lib what you feeeeel, man, yeah--that's cool--intense." Can we get another take on that? Scene 12, Take number 23...aaaaand, Action! "Thubbeeees!!! Not thubbeeees!!! Myyiieees!! myyyeieeeees!!"
Now THAT'S reality.

Brian said...

Obviously, Mr. Cage has not seen a lot of American performances of Shakespeare--either on the stage or in film. Starting with--Orson Welles’ Othello, Kevin Kline as Bottom and Stanley Tucci as Puck In A Midsummer Night’s Dream or Leonard DeCaprio and Claire Danes in Romeo and Juliet all great performances. Some of the best Shakespeare experiences I have had were at The University Colorado at Colorado Springs TheatreWorks’ Shakespeare Festival-–performed with American actors. I think perhaps that it is that Shakespeare does not work in Mr. Cage’s mouth.

William Hunter said...

I also seem to recall that the "American" form of English is considered, at least in "Playing Shakespeare" to be more Elizabethan than contemporary English.

JM said...

Right. "Mid-Atlantic" or "midlantic".

But as opposed to being an "accent", it's really speech without any accent at all that,in my opinion, should be striven for. When speaking this way it's much easier to give full value to the words Shakespeare wrote. And anyone who can do it is speaking the language so "perfectly"--so to speak--that the untrained ear, finding it "unnatural" can easily assume it to be somehow "British" anyway.

But it takes some work and practice, and as I said, speech and vocalization gets little focus in our training. The art of "rhetoric" (a staple tool in Shakespeare's bag) has a bad name-- sadly. We tend to only appreciate the negative connotation of the word.
The minute you start speaking about anything having to with words or "grammar", the yawns begin. The British still love the language they speak--it's theirs, and Shakespeare is responsible for affecting its evolution in a very big way. Funny, Cage speaks of "English", in one part of his statement, as though it were a foreign language.

Gedaly said...

"It's really speech without any accent at all that, in my opinion, should be striven for."

No such thing as speech without any accent! There are perceived "regionless" or "neutral" accents, but it's an ideal and not reality. Methinks that clearly articulated, easily understood speech is the goal. "Speak to be understood" - Love's Labours Lost.

Yes, the art of rhetoric is sorely overlooked and underrated. Shakespeare knew all about it when he wrote his plays, why shouldn't we know all about it when speaking them?

Don't even get me started on the method. Oy. Come on USA, bring back voice and text study! It has been slowly getting better over the past few decades, but good classical actor training is still hard to get here.