Hearing It Done Right

28 Sep

One of the reasons Shakespeare is opaque to us is that the way we speak has changed so much. Tis was inevitable, but it means that we no longer hear Shakespeare as he wrote to be heard. And even though Americans, with our hard R sound, are a little closer to the accents of his time than the Brits are, we still tend to get lost in the music of the speeches, losing the plain sense of many passages. Ever been to a Shakespeare production where every one of the actors sounded like every other one of the actors? That’s not the way they were written. But who now can hear, let alone reproduce, a Warwickshire accent, and who would want to hear Hamlet speak that way, even though there’s a good chance that’s how the part was written?

Which is why hearing Kimberly Scott do Mistress Quickly in Henry IV pt. 2 in Ashland last week was such a shot in the arm. Scott understood he value of every word in every sentence she spoke. She didn’t try to find whatever sounds the original accent was supposed to have. She just  said what the lines meant. And, when she had a word like “swaggering” to speak, she reveled in it. I have no idea why she was so perfect, where she learned to value sense above sound, but I wish every actor who gets cast in an Elizabethan play could hear how she does it.

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