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O.P. Experience At The Classical Studio.

Despite the relevance of Shakespeare’s work to modern life, what theater-maker hasn’t fantasized about getting a glimpse of what an original production of these plays sounded like?  This year, The Classical Studio took a step towards expanding the “original practices” movement by learning O.P. (Original Pronunciation) in preparation for the Studio’s production of Hamlet this past spring.

O.P. is the culmination of research by linguists who have spent recent years re-constructing the Elizabethan dialect.  With the assistance of dialect coach, Jennifer Geizhals, the actors of The Classical Studio learned O.P. and presented Hamlet as it would have sounded at its premiere over 400 years ago.

David Crystal, who with his son Ben created the invaluable Shakespeare’s Words: A Glossary and Language Companion, and is perhaps the leading authority on O.P., pieced together the dialect by examining Elizabethan spelling practices, the use of puns, metrical signposts in the verse, 16th-century references to pronunciation (including the few surviving pronunciation manuals), and rhyme.  The last proved to be of particular value for this linguistic excavation project, as many rhymes in Shakespeare’s plays and, especially, the sonnets provided significant clues for pronunciation.

Throughout the fall, while the studio rehearsed and performed its production of As You Like It, students took class with Jennifer Geizhals to begin learning the idiosyncratic vowel sounds of O.P.  Through the winter break, they continued their lessons with Jennifer via Skype and returned in late January fully prepared to rehearse Hamlet in what is now thought to be its original dialect.

To read about the results of the O. P. of Hamlet, read the following article entitled, “Production of Hamlet in O.P.“.
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Production of Hamlet in O.P.

Results of Hamlet in O.P

Rehearsals of Hamlet in O.P. proved revelatory, and the students initiated a blog to track their discoveries.  New wordplay emerged from a text with which the directors were thoroughly familiar.  The personalities of the characters attained greater contours than they would have in either Standard American or in R.P. (Received Pronunciation, or what used to be known as “BBC English”).  While the text at first seemed somewhat foreign to the actors and directors, it grew to sound utterly natural over time.

What does O.P. sound like?  A blend of Irish, Scottish, Southern American, and, as many folks have half-jokingly noted, “pirate.” Intriguingly, it sounds nothing at all like what people often presume to be a “correct” or appropriate pronunciation of Shakespeare replete with plummy vowels.  The diction sounds more colloquial and conversational than the patrician dialects most often associated with Shakespeare productions.  The O.P. had the effect of rendering all characters, whether royalty or commoner, of the same class.  This buttressed Shakespeare’s almost forgotten habit of eliminating differences between princes and paupers.  The O.P. had the effect of erasing the all-too-standard distinction between the cockney speaking Gravedigger and the characters of the court.

The Classical Studio shared its many discoveries with the community of the Department of Drama by hosting a symposium that brought together students, dialecticians, directors, and historians.  Noted dialect authority, Paul Meier, Skyped in from the University of Kansas to address the conference.  In addition, the Studio partnered with Laura Levine, an Associate Professor of Theatre Studies, and her “Shakespeare and Epistemology” honors seminar, on our exploration of the value of O.P. for both production and scholarship.

A rewarding and enlightening experience was had by all.
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When to use You vs Thou

plays of ShakespeareClose readers of the plays of Shakespeare will have noted that characters will often address others using either you or thou. The employment and differentiation of you and thou are still in use in French, Italian, and Spanish. The words in translation are also used in the speaking of German. Further, individuals will often alternate between using these terms. Lady Capulet in “Romeo and Juliet” does this, perhaps revealing her unsettled nature about Juliet’s status as one who is ready to get married or one who is still a child. The shift from you to thou is also prevalent in “As You Like It,” which The Classical Studio has just produced. In the opening scene, the character of Oliver begins by addressing Orlando as you and quickly employs the more insulting thou as Orlando attacks Oliver. Later, Celia uses the more familiar thou (often used among equals), while Rosalind keeps herself apart from Celia by using the more formal you.

It will be up to the speaker of the text to determine what clues are being given and how the speaker is departing from what is considered to be the norm. In short, the use of you indicates a polite form of address and thou indicates an informal or familiar form of address. One would use you in addressing someone who is of a higher social status than oneself, or a parent, or someone whom you would like to keep away from yourself. Also, if one person is using thou and another is using is using you, you might find yourself in a situation where the user of you is clearly not just into the one using thou. In addition, one would use thou when addressing a servant or an intimate friend or colleague. Thou could also be used to hurl an insult to one who has caused displeasure, as in the case with Oliver and Orlando cited above.

In sum, the use of you and thou, while potentially confusing, can lead to a greater understanding
of the speaker’s intentions and present the actor with a wider range of possibilities in interpreting the text of a given play.

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Hendiadys in Shakespeare

Hendiadys is a figure of speech in which two words connected by a conjunction (usually ‘and’) are used to express a single notion that would normally be expressed by an adjective and a substantive, such as “gracious favor” in place of “grace and favor.” It stems from the Latin phrase “one thing by means of two” or “one through two.” While the phase is no longer cited among grammarians of ancient Greek, Medieval Latin grammarians cite it frequently. Perhaps most famously used by Shakespeare in Hamlet in the line “Oh what a rogue and peasant slave am I” from “Hamlet.” Shakespeare, of course, made the device his own, using an adjectival construction such as “they are the abstract and brief chronicles of the time,” in reference to the Players. Instances of both substantive and adjectival construction abound in this play.Hendiadys

Examples of Hendiadys

The King refers to “delight and dole,” while adding “sweet and commendable”(I, 2, 87). He refers to the “cheer and comfort” of his eye, while calling Hamlet’s reply, “loving and fair” (I, 2, 121), while referencing his “auspicious and dropping eye” (I, 2, 11).  It is not Hamlet or the King alone that employs this rhetorical trope.  Laertes uses it also, when he cautions Ophelia about her involvement with Hamlet, invoking the state’s “safety and health” (I, 3, 20) , its “voice and yielding “(I, 3, 22), and the “morn and liquid dew.”  Ophelia herself is also prone to this construction, in referring to Laertes’ “steep and thorny” (I, 3, 47) path to heaven, as well as his “puffed and reckless” (I, 3, 48) behavior.  Their father, Polonius, himself is not stranger to the device as well, citing Hamlet’s “rank and station” (I, 3, 72) and “select and generous” (I, 3, 73) being.  Ophelia uses this standard later when she cites Hamlet as “Th’expectancy and rose of the fair state” (III, 1, 152) and refers to his “form and feature” (III, 1, 159), while declaring his words to be “out of tune and harsh” (III, 1, 158).   Hamlet himself does not abandon the device, continuing its use in the closet scene with his mother in instances like “frock or livery” (III, 4, 164) and “fair and good (III, 4, 163).

As we point out in the Shakespeare Pronunciation App, Shakespeare experiments with different poetic tropes in each play.  The prevalence of Hendiadys in “Hamlet” is a feature unique to that play and exhibits Shakespeare’s fascination with the possibilities of linguistic formation.