Monday, February 05, 2007

The Shakespeare brogue

At the end of last week I saw the by-me-much-anticipated Theatre for a New Audience productions of The Jew of Malta and The Merchant of Venice.

The first was a great disappointment, one of those silly and incoherent productions that camps it up in a way that's unsustainable for the length of a full play; it's not perhaps the easiest play in the world to make sense of, on the whole it's farcical and totally over the top (I always think of Harold Bloom intoning the line "Sometimes I go about and poison wells" with great glee as part of his argument about Shakespeare getting his charismatic villains from Marlowe) and yet it needs to be fast-paced and more or less coherent--and political, too, if you ignore the public-life aspects of it you're not getting one of the substantive points of interest--in order for it to be worth watching. Instead just a lot of fooling around and worst of all the actors talking in that awful "Shakespeare brogue," a sing-song manner that involves emphasizing almost every word & persuades the audience of nothing so much as that the actor does not understand the sense of what s/he is saying. Very bad, a clear case of the play not being as good as the dinner afterwards (Esca again, a plate of scallops and watercress and winter citrus salad that was pretty much the perfect food)...

But the Merchant production was really very good: here's Charles Isherwood's review of both productions at the Times, I would perhaps not go quite so far in praise but it really is a mesmerizingly interesting play, an appealing production and some very good acting also.

And on a related note, James Fenton had an interesting piece on the Royal Shakespeare Company this weekend in the Guardian.

(Going to see Shakespeare always makes me feel like I'm paying a debt to my younger Shakespeare-obsessed self, I really think that the single most magical thing that happened to me during all of my teenage years was getting to see an amazing pair of RSC productions in New York as an Xmas present the year I turned thirteen and Derek Jacobi was my absolute favorite actor due to Masterpiece Theatre "I, Claudius"--I had been Robert-Graves-obsessed for years already at that point--and the plays were Much Ado About Nothing and Cyrano de Bergerac, the latter of which sometimes comes across on the page as slight or sentimental but in this incarnation was absolutely heartbreaking...)


  1. I just can't resist commenting on bad Shakespeare intonation. Not the worst, but certainly the strangest I encountered was during a production of The Merchant of Venice at the Globe Theatre in London. Shylock was inhabited by a large German gentleman whose accent approached some Ideal Form of caricature. Each time he said "I vill haff my bond" I was transported out of the world of Shakespeare and into that of Ian Fleming.