Friday, June 22, 2012

Talking Original Pronunciation with The Crystals

The following YouTube clip (part of the OpenEdu initiative) is making the rounds lately, where both David and Ben Crystal give a lesson (and demonstration!) of Shakespeare's original pronunciation while standing inside the Globe:

Love.  Man crush.  Both of them.  Holy cow.  The way they both switch fluently between modern and original pronunciation?  *swoon*

Observations about the actual clip:

* While they are demonstrating original pronunciation, the camera keeps cutting to a shot of the text that they are reading from -- a highly edited and modernized text!  What's up with that?  They're making such a big deal out of every sound, and yet they are clearly (in the Henry V prologue example) reading an edited version.  Here's a screenshot of the text that they're demonstrating from, followed by a shot of the actual Folio text:

I suppose when you get right down to it there aren't that many spelling differences (short of a few trailing e's and some capitalizations), but still, that leapt right out at me.  Given the big speech with which they start the video about how the Globe's purpose is to do everything original, it seems fairly glaring.

* Speaking of "do everything original", they keep showing clips of the play featuring a black woman.  I'm pretty sure there's at least two words in that sentence that wouldn't be historically accurate.  Again, not that it's a problem, just jumps out at you after the "everything original" speech.

* Ben Crystal trying to explain a dirty joke is adorable.  He looks around like he's looking for his dad or something, like he's going to get in trouble if he says what the "ripe and ripe and rot and rot" line really means.

In all, I'm not sure how I feel after clips like this.  The entire point is to say, "If you haven't heard original pronunciation, you're missing much of the point."  So, is that supposed to take away from my enjoyment of the majority of Shakespeare productions I'll ever see?  That stinks.


JM said...

"The entire point is to say, "If you haven't heard original pronunciation, you're missing much of the point." So, is that supposed to take away from my enjoyment of the majority of Shakespeare productions I'll ever see? That stinks."

To the contrary: I think the point being made was that the more we investigate all things original, pronunciation being one of the elements, the better we'll be able to relate to the material and, thus, the better we'll be able to communicate it *to* an audience.

Interesting that you should note the Folio vs. modern typeset. I always wondered why John Barton used modern examples in his video teaching--maybe it has to do with not confusing the issue by injecting another "strange element". But whatever the case, original spellings and caps, rather than being *small* differences, are a couple of other ways in which to gain a better understanding of the text and hence afford better communicability of it. The ongoing evolution of the language is paramount in understanding what might have been going on. OP helps with the rhythm and tempo--and also with scansion, although there are other ways to figure out scansion. In many ways they overlap. "The brightest Heaven of In-ven-ti-on" is a good example. (10 beats not nine.)

And at the end of the piece Ben notes one of the ideas I have been stressing in staging and teaching for many years now; that of including the auditor in the process. The more we get away from the idea that Shakespeare was meant for the proscenium picture stage, replete with special effects and fancy "realistic" sets, complete with a bunch of stuffy actors attempting perfect English accents spouting AT us as they attempt to "emote" a la Actors Studio, while pretending we aren't there, the better.

I think they made it clear that OP was but one of the ways among many to achieve these things. When you add them *all* up they're huge.

JM said...

Duane, PS:

I know this is off topic somewhat--but since you brought it up ;-)

Re: Folio vs modern format: Although they're not evident so much in the given passage, I'm sure you've noticed by now that there are also sometimes vast differences in punctuation and verse structure (structure meaning where the line is actually placed on the page.) These can be even more important than spelling and capitalization, and can change the whole tone and/ or intent of a passage or exchange of dialogue. "Original" placement can reveal clues to understanding what's happening (or not) relative to the exchange and can be important clues to understanding *how or what* a character might be thinking re: intent, motive etc. and can indicate dynamics to an actor which are otherwise eliminated by changing it to fit academic guidelines. Modernizing of the structure purely for the sake of proper "poesy" is rife in editing and many times confuses the issue, makes tempo bland, robs the verse of energy, and can eliminate potential conflict in a passage or scene. Shakespeare seems to be much less interested in the poetry (although brilliant at it) than he is in the dramatics he can effect with it by manipulating it outside "proper" boundaries.

Sean O'Sullivan said...


If this taster clip has given
you a man crush on this dynamic
duo I imagine that you would be
batting for the other side on a
permanent basis if you saw their
wonderful double-act live.
I've yet to see an Original
Pronunciation play at The Globe
or elsewhere...Northern Broadsides theatre company make a point of
performing Shakespeare with a
mix of accents, which gives a
more rounded earthiness to the
whole play and a greater feeling
of "authenticity"...not to
mention making some of the lost
rhymes and double entendres
crystal clear.

Sean O'Sullivan said...

Just in case people are interested in looking into OP
further, here is Ben Crystal's
site, with a whole CD of OP
Shakespeare made in partnership
with the British Library...
listen to the sample Sonnet 116
to see how OP improves the
reading despite its initial
shock of not sounding RP (posh)
enough...and get the Luv/Pruv

Ben's book gives the clearest
explanation of blank verse I've
ever come across (no Shakespeare
ribaldry intended).