A Shakespearean Accent

It is not very uncommon here in the USA for people without much experience with Shakespeare, when asked to speak his text, will attempt to do so with an English Accent. Usually a bad one, by that’s a different story for another blog (if I feel so inclined to start a new blog about my experience as a dialect coach… which isn’t likely).

What is it about Shakespeare that warrants so many – both young and old – to attempt to do away with their normal pronunciation and adopt another for reading this author? Simple. Shakespeare was British. Okay, maybe not so simple.

The fact is that most Americans hear Shakespeare’s words spoken by our friends across the pond. I have previously mentioned this problem but I feel that I should bring it up again a little differently. If you didnt know before reading this post… now you know not to speak Shakespeare in an English dialect just because you think it sounds more correct. If you’re Amerian.

But wait! Many of the plays – all of the histories – mainly take place in England! That’s really up to the director to decide. Maybe they’re not even setting their production in England. Let’s move on.

So how are Shakespeare’s words to be given life? What accent is best? There’s no real answer to that question. It is disputed by scholars, actors, directors, and especially teachers. Some say whatever dialect the actor has. Some want the region-neutral General American dialect. Other prefer an older, upper-class, east coast pronunciation… which sounds rather British. Before starting rehearsals as an actor, be sure to ask the director what he/she expects of you in this area. A range of accents can sound bad to an audience in certain situations.

Any range of accents can work, depending on where the director sets the production. It should match, if at all possible. Before I end this post I feel that I should mention that this isn’t just an American issue. In the UK it was required for some time for actors to only use Standard British/Recieved Pronunciation. As an auditor to one of the History plays, I enjoy hearing the corresponding modern accent of the historical figure, based on where he is from. I learned of a recent production of Richard III whose title character, who is from the house of York, spoke with a Yorkshire accent. Cool!

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