I heard Shakespearean actor, Ben Crystal, talk today. My interest in Shakespeare – which had wained with my miscomprehension or un-comprehension of it in my youth – had returned with the revelation that what I had been watching until now had been inauthentic. Ben had pointed out that modern performances had tended towards Received Pronunciation (RP) even though most of The United Kingdom (98% in fact) do not speak like the Queen. English is not the English of Lawrence Olivier. It is the English of ordinary folk. So watching Shakespeare done in RP is like watching it in another language altogether.
Modelled performances by Ben during the talk in the more natural pronunciation of English in Shakespeare’s time according to Ben meant a return to rhyme (lost in modern pronunciation of words), in a more natural tempo and rhythm (sounding more like the vernacular we recognise as native speakers), and engagement (actors spoke directly to the audience).
Some recent productions I have seen online have tried to return to these values (probably due to Ben and the Globe’s performances from 2005 onwards). These values, though, have always been there. You can still see it in the ordinary non-Shakespearean theatre of English. But the values were taken away (stolen as it were) by a small group some time in the history of the English stage performance. This revision and return is absolutely necessary if we are to appreciate Shakespeare on this day of all appropriate days – Shakespeare Day (23rd April) – once more. Bravo and thank you, Ben.