Anorak News | Bard Senseless

Bard Senseless

by | 22nd, July 2005

‘WORKING on the premise that anything that hurts you but falls short of actually killing you is good for the soul, then a trip to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre is like an audience with the Pope.

Nothing about the place is comfortable. The backless seats in the stalls are about as relaxing as sitting on a wasabi enema.

The punters lean forward not to get closer to the action but because the knee of the person in the row behind is pressed up hard against their kidneys.

Chins are not being rubbed in a knowing fashion but resting heavily on hands, lest they slump violently forward and the momentum send the poor sods on a roly-poly spin down into the pit. Where they’ll eaten by tourists dressed as bears seeking that authentic olde Englande experience.

And that pit! Only the Queen’s household cavalry stand up in a hard wooden box all day. Even corpses get to lie down in their wooden boxes; and unlike the Globe with its open roof, the dead get a lid.

At the Globe, like at school, Shakespeare is to be endured. And things are set to get more trying.

The Globe is to stage the entire run of a Shakespeare plays in the original pronunciation. A six-week run of ‘Troilus and Cressida’ will be delivered to an audience of unsuspecting tourists, school kids and Shakespeare fundamentalists in an accent believed to be close to that heard on the Elizabethan stage.

Since few recordings exits from the pre-iPod Elizabethan era, the accent can only ever be an approximation.

And it’s estimated that it sounds like a mix of West Country Scottish, Irish, American and Australian. Which means every actor will sound like Mel Gibson in the yet-to-be made hit ‘Peasant’, the blood and gore tale of Watt Tyler, photogenic English revolutionary and sex god.

For instance, in the play Achilles kills Hector and says: “So Illim fall thou; now Troy sink down, Here lies thy heart, thy sinews and they bone.” At the Globe, the word “down” rhymes with “bone”.

Genius? Or a contrivance to manufacture a rhyming lyric? Consider that and then decide if a line from the musical film Ragtime is any better – “There were gazebos and there were no negroes’.

And a personal favourite: “I’m gonna steal his car/ I’m gonna steal his thunder/ And when I’m through/ I’m gonna do the boy wonder” (Superlover – Brooklyn the Musical).

But this is Shakespeare, which means that even if on the face of it the lines looks pretty obvious – a thigh slap removed from Adrian Mole’s “Pandora! I adore ya. I implore ye. Don’t ignore me” – it is in actual fact deeply meaningful and, let it not go unsaid, important.

As David Crystal, an honorary professor of linguistics at the University of Wales, Bangor, explains in a conversation with the Times.

Having mentioned “the many shafts of linguistic sunlight” that illuminate a Shakespeare play done in the original pronunciation, Crystal says how “the sounds of Elizabethan English add a freshness and vitality to the text”.

How can they not? Like rapping the words or saying them backwards, any new way of dressing up Shakespeare will make it seem new and different.

As the aforementioned Gibson managed with ‘The Passion’, so long as the subject is considered worthy you can let the characters speak in unintelligible tongues and people will listen, nod and vainly try to comprehend.

Crystal goes on: “There’s a great joke in ‘Troilus and Cressida’, but nobody ever gets it. It’s when Thersites harangues Achilles about Ajax in Act 2 — ‘for whomsoever he be, he is Ajax’. It isn’t noticed in modern pronunciation. Indeed, the line seems rather pointless. But in original pronunciation, it would have raised a huge laugh among the groundlings. In Shakespeare’s time the name was pronounced like ‘a jakes’…the word for a pisshouse.”

A huge laugh? In the same way that Hale & Pace are hilarious? Or in a way that is deeper and even more painful…’

Posted: 22nd, July 2005 | In: Reviews Comment | TrackBack | Permalink