Shakespeare 2016! with Ben Crystal

Shakespeare 2016! with Ben Crystal

Ben Crystal, British actor and producer, gave the opening lecture as part of Washington and Lee University’s Shakespeare 2016! on Oct. 26 at 5:30 p.m. in Lee Chapel. He also is the artistic director of London-based Passion in Practice and its Shakespeare Ensemble, which he founded in 2010. Passion in Practice explores fresh approaches to acting Shakespeare. Crystal’s talk is titled “The Once and Future Shakespeare.” His visit is hosted by W&L’s Department of Theater, Dance and Film. In his words, he will discuss “why our current approach to Shakespeare’s works may need to change, how we can learn from the practices of the past to see our way forward, and the dramatic effect these lessons may have on the existing canon.”

hey everybody I am general behavior of the department of figured fantasy fulfillment studies and we are very excited today to be presenting to electrify pebble crystal which is being supported in sperm and for boy I'm so everyone thank them for their generosity and helping us bring them here I give you a very brief before already late introductions Ben and it's January this year I was at a conference in San Francisco for the Shakespeare Theatre Association and there was some guy they were bringing in to do some workshops with us and I had no idea what to expect and the first time that I was there there's this guy who nobody knew over the corner and I said hello and apparently a day or so later we had a conversation at a bar about hamlets and within I don't know what maybe two or three minutes I've sort of found a kindred spirit and they were inseparable for five days maybe in-services co-founded we both work had very similar passions so I'm introducing you today to Ben crystal who is a wonderful friend of mine who also happens to be one of the smartest Shakespeare brains I've ever met and is incredibly passionate and after and Hamlet all you hosts of heaven o earth wells and shall I couple hell Oh fie hold hold my heart and you my sinews grow not instant old but bear me stiffly up but bear me stiffly up remember thee i thou poor ghost whilst memory holds a seat in this distracted globe remember thee yeh from the table of my memory I'll wipe away all trivial fond records all saws of book all forms all pressures past till youth an observation copied there till thy commandment all alone shall live within the book and volume of my brain unmixed with baser matter yes yes by heaven o most pernicious woman a villain villain smiling damned knit villain my tables my tables meet it is I set it down that one may smile and smile and be a villain at least I'm sure it may be so in Denmark so uncle there you are now to my word it is adieu adieu remember me I have sworn you know um it never really ceases to amaze me how much more sense Shakespeare tends to make when he's put back into context and the way that I was taught Shakespeare when I was younger was in one of these in a book on the page and as I said to Gemma's cast of Love's Labour's Lost yesterday I'm working with over these days Faust here at this beautiful campus and thank you for having me it's a great joy to be here I said you know these these these are called plays not reads and yet for some reason I'm over the last 150 years or so since Shakespeare's popularity has come back into ascendant we do introduce people to Shakespeare in books and it's so far away from the way that Shakespeare's own audience would have received them um and so what I'd really like to do for the next stir I don't know 30 minutes or so before I take some questions from your is um well to decapitate you all really I need to remove your 21st century heads and place on those 21st century shoulders and Elizabethan head a head that was wandering around Elizabethan London in the late 1590s and then head slightly turns and becomes a Jacobean head and around 1603 but certainly not a 21st century AD heard about how we are in some respects miss educating our young wings and the next generation of potential Shakespeare lovers is this that if you went to a music class and you wanted to introduce a young link to the works of Beethoven or Mozart then you would give them the CD you would not give them the massive score full of black dots and that's essentially what Shakespeare's plays are they're a collection of all of the various music parts if you will and until goodness seven years after he died these plays weren't available to be read for the most part the the way that they say it would have gone is that you would the Shakespeare but of written or scribbled have you ever seen Shakespeare in Love one of the my favorite things in that film is that when they cut to Joe finds late at night he's burning a candle and he's scribbling there with a quill and every now and again dipping in an ink pot and and he's writing on parchment and his fingernails are all covered in ink and he saw oh yeah that's exactly would have been dirty and scribbling and certainly not you know a little bit bored of everything that he's become but anyway so he would have scribbled that out and then very likely they would have he would have hired a someone with the secretary hand if he couldn't do it himself to write to write out a fair copy as the play and then and this tradition carried on right the way through to the middle of the 20th century with new plays the play would be passed around the acting company from the lead part of the lead player all the way down to the smallest spear carriers and and they would have written out their own parts in their own hands now this is really interesting my shakespeare company my ensemble are we we use these these types of scripts called cue scripts really i never hand out the full copy of the play to my actors all they get um is a piece of paper and there would be a line and the to mark the cue and then three words the last three words that are spoken before they're supposed to speak and then their speech and then the next time that they have to speak cue and then that speech and if it's dialogue then it's there's many of them but they would never ever ever get to know what everyone else is saying if you think about it that kind of makes sense because let's say you're playing Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet and Mercutio and Romeo and Juliet dies about halfway through the play um now if you're playing the qco and someone hands you the prompt copy the fair copy of the of the play and paper is expensive and ink is expensive and writing takes time and you haven't got time because you're busy working at the Playhouse every your life path on Sundays of course then what is the point in the actor playing the cue co-writing out the second half of Romeo and Juliet doesn't make sense waste of time if you think about it actually there's no point in him writing out the scenes that he's not in either because someone else is taking care of that and actually there's no pointing and writing out let's say if Romeo has a big long speech as Romeo usually does there's no point in writing our Romeo speeches either because Romeo is taking care of that and that's sort of how we we've gained an idea the other thing is of course that when you write something out it's a terrific Abe memoir it's a different terrific way to learn your lines very very quickly one of the questions that people have about the Elizabethans I'm judging from hens loads diary Philip Enslow who is the the actor manager also the theatre manager I should say of Shakespeare's company and you were commissioned new plays and from his diaries that still exists fortunately we can see that sometimes acting companies in Shakespeare's time had like 40 plays in repertoire and that they would sometimes perform a new play every day I think about that for a moment in Shakespeare's time you get up with the dawn I suppose you'd go to the theatre and there'd be time enough in the morning to rehearse the dances and the fights you know the complicated bits the bits that you want to make sure that someone isn't going to get a rapier through the eye or something like that and to make sure that you don't trip over each other when you want to do dances and then at two o'clock in the afternoon the play will be performed in an outdoor theatre like the reconstruction of the Shakespeare's Globe in London on the south bank of the River Thames and when a white two o'clock in the afternoon well it's the best time of day to get the best sort of source of light and the play would finish about two or three hours later so about five o'clock two or three rings of the Southern Cathedral that you could hear nearby and then in theory I suppose you'd be handed the text for the next day and you go home and learn that and then you'd have to get up in the morning and learn the dances and the fights for that and so on and so forth it brings up a lot of questions because there's not much rehearsal time especially for text and not a lot of learning time either um now on a back track is open I want to backtrack to um being given a copy Hamlet when I was 15 and being made to read it out loud by myself in class and just knowing that it was important and just knowing that I should respect these words and just knowing that they should sound in a particular way because as far as I'm concerned the sound of Shakespeare if I think of the classic sound of Shakespeare I suppose it comes all about the 1940s with John Gielgud and his Hamlet and then you know soon after actually his was sort of 30s really well the first time he did it actually was in the 1920s but still he was sort of the great Shakespearean of the 1920s and 30s and 40s and then you have Laurence Olivier and he even though if you don't listen to learn to live ei online on YouTube and watch his Hamlet and he sounds like beautiful received pronunciation the Queen's English you know that really grand plumbing musical sounding quintessential British so-called voice and but people said that he sounded louche in a really sort of relaxed in comparison to Gill good then you got Richard Burton in the 60s who was really very kind of you know he I think you were a polo-neck and it was in a studio and you could kind of see the cameras and it was all very meta and then and then you sort of there's the Golden Age of the RSC in the 70s and then Kenneth Branagh of course in his beautiful for our 70 millimetres at 35 milli anyway very very epic complete version of Hamlet in the 90s Branagh was one of the first people to think that actually we should move away from this crisp correctness although if you go back and look at his film it looks very very beautiful indeed but in the 80s I think when he did much ado about nothing he was one of the first people to ever say yeah in Shakespeare in modern Shakespeare anyway instead of your they know it was Henry the fifth and it's Henry the fifth film when he's trying to woo Katharine at the end and he asks her if she can love him and she says she cannot tell and so he says can any of your friends tell Kate but but Shakespeare but Branagh didn't say can any of your friends tell Katie said can any of your friends tell Kate and people were like you can't say yeah it's Shakespeare what are you doing man that's ridiculous but it's true to say that over the last 50 60 70 years there has been a move away from our front from this sort of stand up still and declaimed Shakespeare as beautiful beautiful poetry that's not to say that it is solely poetry as I thought it was when I stood there and we're yeah English class it's only latterly since I've been working as an actor and being blessed enough to be invited around the world and to talk to various people because Shakespeare is loved all over the world and like mine's like Gemma and and another inspiring people who who who are starting to rediscover Shakespeare in a slightly different way take the speech that I just gave Oh at the beginning of the talk it comes very early on in Hamlet I meet Act one Scene five and Hamlet has just when he says that speech o all you host of heaven o earth what else and shall I couple hell if I hold hold my heart um he's just seeing the ghost of his dead father how many people here believe in ghosts show of hands cool nice one all right um now I mean if I ask this question four hundred years ago everyone's hands with a shot up in the air it's one of the difficult things about producing Shakespeare nowadays Mark Rylance the first artistic director of Shakespeare's Globe once said unless you believe in witches why would you ever attempt to to perform or produce the play Macbeth um in Shakespeare's time everybody believed in witches everyone was very very superstitious as well as being terribly terribly religious and they fundamentally and truly believed in ghosts so um Hamlet has just seen the ghost of his dead father and the ghost of his dead father says um hi Hamlet how you doing hi v no he doesn't that's not sure probably does in the Portland Ashland adaptation of it but still that's a different story and he says Hamlet I've got some news for you I am paraphrasing and I didn't die naturally and with ha I I was actually murdered ah and I was murdered by your uncle Claudius ah and your uncle Claudius murdered me in order to become king and take my crown away from you ah and to spend more quality time with your mother big news I suppose you could call it a revelatory experience for Hamlet um and um the first thing he says is o all you host of heaven o earth what else and shall I couple hell Oh fie hold hold my heart um that first word is the most important word in Shakespeare it's never it was never taught to me this in school um and it's something that I will impress upon anybody who will listen especially if I'm teaching them sometimes people on the street to be fair it's the most beautiful word in Shakespeare to UM it can mean anything you want it to mean what it does not mean what it never means what it should never be spoken as is oh that's not what it means um Shakespeare knowing that his actors didn't have much rehearsal time knowing that they he was working with the same troupe of actors every day 340 days a year for 20 years that he would be able to change and adapt his writing methodology in his style to suit their performance styles and they too knew that they would be able to adapt their performance styles to whatever he was offering them to challenge them in his writing now you'll notice if you go and look at a copy of Shakespeare that there aren't many stage directions there but a lot of people now think that he wrote his stage directions into his text and the O is one of the most beautiful and biggest ones because it essentially means emote in some way express an emotion of some kind in other words you see that letter O and the black ring that surrounds that beautiful white space and he's asking you to fill that white space with a context relevant emotion of some kind so I'm bearing in mind the situation and I suppose you know our I am Hamlet I am a prince I have just seen the ghost of my dead father and the ghost real actually walking corpse think about that for a second and and he has just told me that he was murdered and he was murdered by my uncle and my uncle did it in order to take the crown and my mother so um it would not make sense to go oh well you know it's a little bit more um you know Molesworth oh hello clouds hello sky it doesn't suit the context of the situation the emotion I'm filling that space with in order to sort of take into account the fact that I've seen the ghost of my dead father that my father has been murdered that my father's crown has been taken by my murderous uncle and that he is also taken my mother then it should be something more I don't know that oh all you hosts of heaven Oh huh what else shall I couple hell fine hold-hold my heart and you my sinews grow not instant old but bear me stiffly up it's got to be something more like that right because that makes sense of everything that has come before it and then actually once you start listening to Shakespeare once you start listening to the things that he's trying to tell you from 400 years ago reading Shakespeare if you have to read him if you can't go and see if you can't act him or if you have not got a way to be able to learn how to act in but reading him knowing these things can become like well to pick the weaker delorean back to the future you know you can take a time-travel trip back to Shakespeare's time and hear him all in wisp almost whisper in your ear this this is how I'd like you to do it try it this way now that now this is very very different from how people are generally producing Shakespeare at the moment as I say I'm really lucky I get to travel an awful lot I see a lot of Shakespeare in Europe I've seen it in India I get to go see it in Asia and Australia a lot in America and for the most part the same is true throughout there's a lot a tendency nowadays to try and do Shakespeare differently he's the man of the millennium he was the the center of the Cultural Olympiad in the UK in 2012 it was a 400th anniversary of his birth in 2014 next year is the anniversary of his death in 2016 everyone wants to do something different with Shakespeare and everyone still struggling really to fight generations of memories of feeling uncomfortable in classrooms with Shakespeare and disliking him unless as they say I was lucky I had a good teacher and goodness knows it should not ever come down to luck to be invited and welcomed and warmed into this amazing world that he's created for us to listening to Shakespeare can teach us so so so much it's one of the things I've been working on recently to really truly listen to him not just in terms of what he his techs are trying to say not just in terms of the spaces that he's trying to make but to sort of pull away and back to what the chorus in Henry v says the opposite of these of the modern tendency which is essentially to either set Shakespeare over Shakespeare play in an interesting place so for example there was a production of the RSC of Merchant of Venice recently where imagine a Venice was set in a Vegas casino I have heard of a production of Pericles which not many people know it's a sort of corner of Lake Cannon that was set on the moon and oftentimes if it's not set in an interesting place then there will be a star performing it to try and drag people back to the theatre to try and persuade them that Shakespeare might be okay Benedict Cumberbatch is doing Hamlet in London a moment Sherlock if you want to carne if you really want but the chorus in Henry v says you know you're going to have to forgive us because we don't have anything we don't have star actors we don't have props we don't have set we just have the words the space and us and that's the principles that I set my company up on to try to go back to the past and learn from Shakespeare as much as possible so yes we use cue scripts yes we try to work in beautiful spaces like this one but we also have been trying to listen to Shakespeare in a different way and that's why all of these things are essentially under the umbrella of what we call original practices the explorations and experiments in not trying to turn bring it into the 21st century and bring mobile phones into Romeo and Juliet because that would kind of ended quite quickly Romeo you okay yeah I'm fine okay see you Yolo so so we've been trying to work out what the accent of Shakespeare might be like because um I and I was lucky enough to play Hamlet a few years ago and we performed it in the accent of Shakespeare in the recreation a reconstruction of the accent of Shakespeare and they've called this recreation or reconstruction original pronunciation and it's taught me an awful lot really because as I said my association with Shakespeare and what and to pick you know the most famous speech in Shakespeare um is Olivier and um you can go online and you can hear this because if I do it it'll sound terrible but essentially it's sort of you know to be or not to be that is that question whether I'm not exaggerating tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune I'm sort of slipping into gilgit now what I take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them I'm not kidding seriously it is about five second gap and you know what happened was that did the Shakespeare kind of fell out of popularity for a hundred years or so and then David Garrick the act of set up a festival of Shakespeare and stratford-upon-avon and then everybody suddenly got interested in him again then they noticed how wonderful the poetry was then all of a sudden literature arm decided that he would be involved in the Canon of great literature and then people kind of forgot that these were plays supposed to be performed and that they were actually poetry expected to be sort of clearly read and and so it deserved the accent of the BBC received pronunciation and an original pronunciation is vastly vastly different and I'll give you a little bit of it now um and when I do I'd love you two to just have a think about what accents it reminds you of accents that might be familiar to you I'll do well seeing as it was the anniversary of Agincourt on Sunday I'll do a little bit of Henry the fifth and the opening quarter speech soon as I've mentioned it and I'll do it I'll do a few lines in received pronunciation then I'll do some in original pronunciation and you can you can see what you hear and so what is it oh I see yeah oh that's that word again o for a muse of fire that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention a kingdom for a stage Prince's to act and monarchs to behold the swelling scene then should the warlike area like himself assume the port of Mars and it is heals leashed in like hounds should famine sword and fire crouch for employment ah ha ha ha ha ha so this is featuring RP um so this is this is as close as we think we've got as we'll ever get William the my father who's done all the research on this the linguist David crystal says that we're about 90 percent right which isn't bad for 400 years so this is this is a sort of 90% accurate reconstruction of the axe and the Shakespearean his actors would have spoken the plays in 400 years ooh o for a muse of fire that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention a kingdom for a stage Prince's to act and monarchs to behold the swelling scene then should the warlike Harry like himself assume the Porta Mars and it his eels leashed in lake homes should famine sword and fire crouch for employment lack sense does it remind you of 3 hand in the air to say say anything you like yeah Scottish yeah it does doesn't it there is some cotton yes Hamilton Bermuda really awesome I've never heard that before anyone else right I tell you you know just it's not syllabus or anything but whenever I go into schools and particularly the young the really little lovely wee ones and I go this is what Shakespeare would have sounded like and I give him a little bit and I say what does it remind you of when they go Pirates of the Caribbean Jake Spears owes an awful lot to Johnny Depp but it does doesn't it it's got that sort of Rohtak sound that sort of our hard are which is often prevalent in American accents dudes rrrr it does sound very piratey and it also because of the way that the vowels are placed in the mouth it engages my lower register you could probably hear you know it's not so much that sort of to be or not to be that is the question when the center is the whole of up here and you cancel you know it's all sort of you can stand still you don't have to move in sort of a so to a baryon heart today old forum user for it engages your lower register and Grix you sort of growl both boys and girls do this when they when they learn this and any other accents it reminds you say the accent you don't want to say because you think you're going to be completely wrong and embarrassed I know right it does doesn't it I've had people say plenty of different parts of America I've had people say Australia I've had people saying Zealand and Canada and the thing is that you know in Shakespeare's time London was a sort of melting pot of accents and people and Woodleigh where we come from sort of Norfolk and Ireland and Wales and Scotland John and and they come down to London and their accents will all mix together there's a linguistic trait called accommodation we all do it subconsciously we move our our accents slightly towards the person that we're talking to if we like them and we pull away from their accent slightly if it's a distance ourselves it's sort of vocal body language if you will and so Shakespeare's actors all their accents mixed together and all of Elizabethan actors people in London mix together and then of course they went to Bristol and sailed across the Atlantic to the Americas and left bits of the accent there if you will and later on they got sent to Bristol and sent down to the Antipodes and and in part that's where Shakespeare's accent is still you can still hear bits of it all over the place it has a wonderful effect of instead of going to see Shakespeare if you're lucky enough to go and see Shakespeare rather than just be stuck with the book I've instead of going to it and hearing this sort of very beautiful crisp sound and thinking that that is the sound of the cultured of the of an inaccessibility people tend to tune in and hear the accent of their home they tend to hear it reminds them of places or that they've been to in their life we'll spend a lot of time and so instead of listening to Shakespeare or watching Shakespeare from up here they tend to hear and listen with their heart when I approached Hamlet I figured that if I was going to do this part I probably should know what to be or not to be was about that sounds kind of obvious but to be or not to be I mean it is one of the greatest speeches of English theatre it is an extraordinary speech um and a lot of people think it's about suicide it's about Hamlet coming out and saying you know I'm not sure whether I should uh I should whether I should kill myself or not and the curious thing about that is in in in the play he has already discussed whether or not he should kill himself in his first speech he says old that this too too solid flesh would melt thaw and resolve itself into a dew or that the everlasting had not fixed his Canon gainst self-slaughter Oh God Oh God and then he gets slightly distracted and forgets about suicide because then he sees this ghost of his father and the ghost of his father sets him on this mission to find out whether or not his uncle murdered him honor um you flash forward a few more speeches and there's a speech that begins all what a rogue and peasant slave am I is that word again oh and it's Hamlet trying to well basically giving himself a very hard time about the fact that as yet he has not done anything about the ghosts information and he gives himself a real hard time about it and he and any sort of here's the audience ask him I will tell him that he's being cowardly because in this in the in the speech in the original version it says a Maya coward question mark and if you think about the fact that the original actor would be performing at the globe at two o'clock in the afternoon then it's not too dissimilar a situation to this in that I can actually talk to you or I can see you all I can make eye contact with you or think about going to see a Shakespeare play in a modern theatre oftentimes you sit down the lights come down lights go up on the stage you sit in darkness the actors perform in light and there is a wall or fourth wall as they call it now between us and I can't make eye contact with you but in Shakespeare's time because of that two-way dynamic as well you can't necessarily what I can see whether you're happy or sad or shifting or drinking water or texting or or wishing you've gone to another talk this evening and and it makes me sort of work a little harder maybe or indeed it makes me sort of relaxed to see you all performing at I'm performing to see you all enjoying it um you becomes a event I suppose you come with me on this journey you're more likely to laugh if I make a joke you're more likely to cry if I die and you think about the theater masks over every theater of the persona that's all we're trying to do on this stage Shakespeare is saying you know all we're trying to do is entertain you for a bit to take you out of your life or make you think about things Hamlet here's the his audience call him a coward for not doing anything in original pronunciation the word coward is pronounced cord cord and it really struck a chord with me because actually in the original text the First Folio the earliest collation of Shakespeare's plays as I said earlier was put together seven years after his death the word coward has a capital C a lot of modern editors in these versions will edit out all of these capitalized words not realizing that they were very likely one of these silent stage directions from Shakespeare I thought capital C coward I've seen that somewhere else as it turned out I'd seen it in to be or not to be he returns to that word he returns to the stage shortly after hearing his audience Colin coward and says you know what this isn't me coming out to commit suicide this is me explaining myself you think I'm a coward for not having done anything for not having killed my uncle Claudius but you know what I was a student in Wittenberg a student of philosophy I'm not sure whether or not I believe in heaven and but if I kill Claudius and he's innocent I could go to hell if it exists which I'm not sure it does and you know what actually if you think about it if we were sure about what happens after this world then life would be a completely different thing people would act much much much more different ways because if we knew that there was absolutely knew for sure categorically with it that there was paradise after this or raging fires after this or nothing after this then perhaps life would be lived in a slightly different way these are questions that were being asked 50 miles away by the world's leading academia in the University of Cambridge Shakespeare was asking this question to people who were paying a penny to people who weren't allowed to vote necessarily to people whose greatest and biggest thoughts were how to put food on the table at the end of the day the generosity of spirit of this man overwhelms me every tunngle time I think about it he did exactly the same with them in Macbeth a few years later with them is this a dagger I see before me Macbeth half elucidates a dagger it seems on his way to kill Duncan and says is this a dagger I see before me handle toward my hand come let me clutch thee I have thee not yet I see thee still in the same universities the academia a the question is it possible actually is it possible to create matter by the power of your mind woof koala woof cappuccino they didn't know they really really didn't know much like they were trying to work out if they could turn lead into gold and here he does he asks this most the existential questions the question the humanity still asks itself today to be or not to be that is the question whether it is nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or to take arms to say our troubles and by opposing end to die to slur it no more and by a sleep to say we end the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to tis a consummation devoutly to be wish'd to die to sled to slip her chance to dram ie there's the role for in that sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil must give us pause there's the respect that makes calamity of so long life for who would bear the whips and scorns of time the oppressors wrong poor man's contumely the pangs of this prize love or the laws delay the insolence of office or the spurns that patient merit of the unworthy takes when he himself might his Quietus make with a bare bodkin who would these fardels bear to grunt and sweat under a weary life but that the threat of something are to death the undiscovered country from whose Bourn no traveler returns puzzles the will and makes us rather bear those ills we have than fly to others that we know not half those conscience doth make cords of us are and thus the native hue of resolution is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought and enterprises of great pith and moment with this regard their currents turn awry and lose the name of action thank you very much you so I'm not sure much time I've got left I see how am i doing got 15 minutes perfect 15 minutes for some questions I just wanted to sort of really take you through a little trip through the last few hundred years and where we're up to with Shakespeare and and and and to give you an insight really into some of the the newest explorations and original practices that we're doing but I'm more than happy to talk about anything else and if there are any questions yes sir do you find that audiences tend to perceive productions in original pronunciation any differently than they receive other versions do I find that audiences tend to perceive original pronunciation productions any differently and yeah I think a lot of people think that when they come to or in original pronunciation production it's going to sound a little bit like the a-level teacher that the high school teacher reading Chaucer in Middle English I think they go because Shakespeare of course wrote in early modern English we are now speaking modern English Chaucer spoke in Middle English and by Beowulf was was Old English right and so they think that that he's going to speak in in in Middle English you know the NHANES priest is Taylor and which is quite hard to understand um actually because if you if you were to think of you know like a tuning fork mm um if you think that some theatre like the Shakespeare's Globe in London or indeed the Blackfriars theatre in Staunton near here which is a recreation of one of the indoor theatres um if you think that the First Folio the the earliest copy of his works that we have all hit the harmonic of as close as we can possibly get of Shakespeare um then this is the sound that it was written for and and rather than it being harder to penetrate it seems after you tune into it a little bit that if anything and rather wonderfully the reactions we have is my goodness that was the clearest I've ever heard it I've ever heard Shakespeare and that and it also helps I think as I said earlier that people tend to enjoy and tune into the slices of slithers of sounds of their own family accent and and it sort of it sounds more familiar than I think they expected to it's also faster it was it was spoken a lot faster we have two sources of evidence for that one is the spellings in the earlier versions there's a lot of elisions apostrophes like I apostrophe th apostrophe instead of invar so if we also have Hamlet's own speech to the players speak the speech I pray you as I pronounced it to you trippingly upon the tongue but do not mouth it as many of our players do I had as lief the town crier spoke my mind there's also the end of the chorus speech in Romeo and Juliet when the choristers is now the two hours traffic of our stage two hours not three and three-quarter hours as many productions are they the first original pronunciation experiment at the globe they did Romeo and Juliet and they had most of the production in received pronunciation and they did three performances in the middle and original pronunciation the original pronunciation production was ten minutes faster because they were speaking so much faster and moving so much faster as well because it has a sort of holistic effect on your body as well you might have noticed I was standing up quite straight for RP and I kind of hunkered down a little bit more for opiates it's like going to war but and the wonderful thing of course is it makes going to war sound like going to war you know you heard the word war like Kerry in that speech you know it's sort of then I thought the war like Kerry you know we spend a lot of time working with actors trying to make them make the words have the right colour make the words sound like it's supposed to sound and you know as War South hello I'm going to what enchanted to meet you there's going to be some killing then we're going to have tea but you know you say the word war in you know cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war in original plans it's not cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war it'll be jolly but it's cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war war yeah I only go to that one that sounds fun um so so so it it was faster it was it was it was more sort of like emotional and guttural unfortunately it was so fast the director very very wonderful man called Tim Carroll had thought that what I'll do when Romeo and Juliet first meet and they share a sonnet and they share this sonnet at the dance um Shakespeare gives them the the structure of the poetic structure of a sonnet to show how wonderful their meeting is um and he thought as soon as they finish their sonnet they can finish their dance and it will be perfect to the music and everything and it was in the RP version unfortunately they were speaking so much faster in the opie version they finished the sonnet and they still had about 30 seconds of dancing with nothing to say to each other so it has all sorts of different effects and that seems to come across a lot to the audience's of 13 productions 13 plays have been done in an original pronunciation and and more and more coming every year a lot over here I think and that's partly because a lot of people tend to think that the right way to act Shakespeare is with that RP British accent and that any other accent doesn't sound right but whereas in fact about 50% of the vowel sounds of original pronunciation your speak naturally and 50% I speak naturally and so when we come together to do original pronunciation some of it's easier for you and some of it's easier for me but acoustically it people tend to learn hi um in my ensemble do i do all male casts um as indeed it would have been the case in Shakespeare's time or and do I have a preference no and my ensemble is we're trying to sort of we spend a lot of time exploring or most of the time exploring a what would it be like to try to recreate the kind of acting company that Shakespeare had so I can't unfortunately until I get some massive grant put them all on weight for 340 days of the year it would be very very hard to convince their friends and family to let them just do that for their entire lives like Shakespeare's actors did but wouldn't it be wonderful one day so but we developed ideas and methods to sort of short circuit as towards that um but I'm not interested in trying anything trying to be authentic I think if you try and make something authentic then it will crumble it's just history you know it's a museum piece if you will there have been all-male companies and indeed all-female companies at the globe and peterhall the one of the first artistic directors of the RSC the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford an all-male company that still shows around called the propellor Theatre Company and they're all male so it kind of been done um and also in in in tandem with trying to recreate the similar dynamic to Shakespeare we often have a bust of Shakespeare in the corner of the room so when we're cutting or when we're trying to work out how to do something or whether we should do something we always sort of go is it all right with you bill and he sort of goes it's your play I'm dead it doesn't matter just make it entertaining you know and um I think from everything I know what little I've perceived about the man because we know so little about him and from everything that I see in the characters that he writes if you think about any character from the earliest from Joan or Margaret in the Henry six plays constant sinking John the Kate in Taming of the Shrew Rosalind a failure who actually isn't that passive and Oh Hamlet I'm so sorry but like a root can be a really strong character all the way through to Hermione and Paul I know in Winter's Tale he seems to be writing for a time when women were going to be able to act on the stage and so um you know I think he would say Shakespeare can we have some women in in in the play and he said well are they allowed to is it's the legal filter act no no it's fine well of course you can your idiot why would you because if you know there's certainly been a lot that we've learned from original that original practice um but ah well my mum would kill me I think so you know I like it I'm interested by it I'm interested by Pericles on the moon and and Merchant of Venice in in in a casino you know we don't have a Shakespeare Foundation similar to the Becket foundation that goes around every production and make sure you're doing it exactly as it is on the page maybe we should but no that's the wonderful thing you can put throw anything you like it Shakespeare you can adapt them you can translate them you can you can put them upside down and inside out as Jemma and I are doing with Hamlet at the moment and then we'll be performing here next Sunday come it's going to be really fun but Shakespeare will still continue so it's it's wonderful that people want to try different things with them do I like it to have a preference you know it's as long as people are doing it and people are coming to see it thank goodness hello thank you so much that what you're doing in efforts to me she's remorseful is that odds with what is happening now we're helping you're translating these plays which you can convert English and I was just interested to see you outside can we turn the camera um well it'd be very very easy to pick let's say ten examples of difficult lines in Shakespeare they I could do the same for an Italian opera and put them on the paper in front of you you'd probably have an equally difficult chance of understanding it you know as I've been saying throughout today these things were designed to be heard and spoken by people who were craftsmen at their task and were practiced at making sense of them like you know actors are supposed to do I think that that you know if you were to collect a bunch of people together like and they were to do an Angela Carter esque bloody chamber esque adaptation of Shakespeare for young people not a bowler ization or a Charles and Mary lamb ization and sort of cutting out all of the good stuff and buy good stuff I mean the sex and the blood and the you know the murder and all the kind of stuff that Shakespeare seems to be kind of interested about the extremities of the human condition then you know um the perhaps they could shed new light on them I think that when you talk about needing to translate or adapt shakes been needing to it presupposes that it's impenetrable whereas in fact you know having worked on a dictionary of Shakespeare um two dictionaries of shakes those dictionaries of Shakespeare and there aren't actually that many difficult words in Shakespeare that would stop you being able to understand it you know the best story I heard a colleague of mine in New York last week because we were talking about this and he said he was working on Romeo and Juliet and particularly the Queen Mab speech of ekishu with a some 13 year olds in school and um will said my friend said to the kid so um what's this speech about and the kid looked at it and went well Mercutio is his friend right Viki she was Romeo's friend and we'll yeah he said well Romeo's upset right and will said yeah said well he's trying to cheer him up right and so he starts to tell him a joke and he gets carried away with that joke and we'll said yeah I you know as Lea would say reason not the need why do we need to translate Shakespeare because we're lazy at it because we are introducing it to our younglings in a way that is 150 years wrong and old and because we are producing it a lot for the most part in a way that we think we should be producing it rather than actually listening to what you know the the plays are telling us to do and when you do that there is nothing to be misunderstood from him because because all he was ever trying to do was as I said entertain and and he may be using I ways or poetic ways of exploring the human condition but if we were to try to unpick or translate the way that he did that it's like that old saying it ain't what you say it's the way that you say and I think come if we're not careful we don't try and do that little bit of work to work our way back towards Shakespeare we could be in danger of losing him there are people who would say that a fellow is a racist play The Taming of the Shrew is an anti-feminist play The Merchant of Venice is an anti-semitic play that if we keep ascribing our 20th 21st century ideologies to these four hundred year old pieces of work and expecting them to live up to our expectation of what they should be then then we're just going to end up shoving this man his work away from us so you know but each to their own um one more competing texts where you have conflicts am i clear or Hamlet there's things like a Hamlet saying four or five hours and then regard for the great curses looked at look they're do deliberately try and select texts that maximize incidences and be over do I um well um well first so he was asking when there's multiple texts for a play um you know how do you choose and do you aim for the ones that have the Morrow's well you know where I were looking at that very question at the moment with with Gemma's project which were performing at the Blackfriars on Friday night and then here on Sunday afternoon at 3:00 3:00 in the theatre studio Gemma has put together the first quarto the bad paperback version of Hamlet the second quarter which is a slightly smarter paperback version of Pamela and the folio version which is like the hardback paper version of Hamlet and they're all slightly or very different from each other and and she's forged a play looking at the differences and those three characters and how the three texts make the character of Hamlet different and it's only 40 minutes of it really is going to be fun so but when I look at them the different editions that is well look for example in that first speech that I mentioned all that this too too solid flesh would melt thaw and resolve itself into a dew in the modern Edition that I have but we had to use for the Shakespeare's words the penguin edition there are 11 exclamation marks in that speech in the original folio version there is one so over 400 years someone has decided to tell me to shout or exclaim 10 more times then than was originally intended um I don't necessarily seek out the old word but I do we all do essentially look to see what the options were and and and you know what's interesting about gems project is that you do start to get a feeling and this is the most tantalizing other things as well you know because if we can't ever really get a view into what Shakespeare thought we have no Diaries on notes about its life but when you juxtapose when you put these texts side-by-side you start to get a sense of the man's drafting I've been writing of him rewriting of him trying to work out the best way of making this sent this line or this thought even more beautiful so ya don't know if I've answered your question yeah awesome um I think that's it what we got so no that's it I'm sorry listen everyone um it really is such a great pleasure to be here with with well with gemma students and with you all to this evening and thank you very much for coming to hear me ramble about Shakespeare thank you


  1. Ben Crystal inspires me for his passion about his Shakespearean work of art.  One of my favorite points he makes is that the original pronunciation really means speaking from the gut rather than speaking from the upper throat and head, and it does not have to be any particular accent or dialect.   Amazing his first hand knowledge of his craft. How lucky those students are to hear him speak.

  2. I have been binge watching Ben Crystal on YouTube. Thank you for making Shakespeare make sense. I'm a middle aged woman and have enjoyed Shakespeare with a sense of only mild entertainment rather than truly understanding what the fuss is about, until watching and listening to Ben. Students everywhere that are studying it should watch his presentations. Not only is he entertaining, but history is being demonstrated. I love the thought that my Canadian accent is part of that time, because my cultural ancestors came to Canada when British accents sounded similar to mine in part. Thank you for sharing

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