Sunday, 18 November 2007

On OP (the latest)

A correspondent writes to ask whether there have been any further productions of Shakespeare in 'original pronunciation' (OP), following the Romeo and Troilus at Shakespeare's Globe in 2005 and 2006 respectively - and whether there are to be any more.

The last question I can't answer - though I hope so. Every time I turn a piece of Shakespeare into OP I find something new - a rhyme that now works, a piece of unexpected wordplay, a fresh metrical reading, or just a general frisson that comes from hearing familiar lines read in an accent that is as close as we can get to how it would have been in 1600. So with only two plays done and (depending on what you include) 37-odd more to go, there is plenty of opportunity for doing something new.

The interest is continuing. In July this year an American director, Alex Torra, put on a performance of extracts from various plays in OP at a theatre in New York, which was evidently very well received. He is one of several expressions of interest I've had from people in the US, some of which I expect will turn into productions in due course. Also earlier this year I did an OP transcription and recording of the Sonnets for the sonnet marathon-man, Will Sutton. Maybe we'll hear them at the Rose one day: that would be electrifying. I'll keep readers of this blog posted, as soon as I hear of anything happening.


KateGladstone said...

Speaking of Original Pronunciation, how do current (non-OP) productions of THE TEMPEST handle the following lines (from Act One, Scene Two) ?

"The watch-dogs bark.
Hark, hark! I hear
The strain of strutting chanticleer
Cry, Cock-a-diddle-dow."

For this to rhyme, the English-language representations of the two animal sounds (dog and rooster) plainly need to rhyme, too. If non-English productions pronounce "Bow-wow" as present-day English pronounces it, this requires "cock-a-diddle-dow" to end with that same /ow/ vowel: not acceptable to a modern audience (nurtured on "cock-a-doodle-doo") and almost comically remote from the sound of a rooster's actual cry. ("Ow" to Shakespeare plainly did not represent the same sound as "ow" to us.)

Yet if a (non-OP) production has the actor say "cock-a-doodle-doo" here (or even "cock-a-diddle-do") which the audience *will* accept .... to preserve the rhyme would require changing the dog's bark to "boo-woo" for the sake of the rhyme .... and this, I think, the audience will not accept.

So ... what DO the non-OP productions do
with "bow-wow/cock-a-diddle-dow" ....
and why, in any case, did one of these but not the other change its sound during the Great English Vowel Shift?

DC said...

I've heard modern productions do all sorts of things to get round the problem - usually by lengthening the 'o' at the end, so that it becomes more 'oo'-like, for both bow-wow and dow. (If they had tried this effect in OP, it would have been much easier to achieve, because the first part of the diphthong was articulated higher in the mouth, more like the vowel sound of the than the vowel sound of sat.)

Why did one sound change and not the other? Sound symbolic (onomatopoeic) words don't follow the normal phonological rules of the language, over time. Indeed, there are many such 'words' in the language today which act differently. For instance, it isn't normal English phonology to have a word consisting of a single consonant, but in such cases as shh that is what we get. So it's not surprising that one onomatopoeic expression goes one way and another does not. But why the cock crow changed and the dog noise didn't I can't say. A point to note is that the spelling of these words varies quite a bit, in older texts, e.g. wow is wawgh in the Folio.