Listening to Sheakespeare. (Reviews)

By Berry, Ralph | Contemporary Review, February 2003 | Go to article overview

Listening to Sheakespeare. (Reviews)


Berry, Ralph, Contemporary Review


The Sound of Shakespeare. Wes Folkerth. Routledge. [pounds sterling]55.00. 147 pages. ISBN 0-415-25376-4.

The Sound of Shakespeare comes from Routlege's 'Accents on Shakespeare' series. Mercutia's view of 'these new tuners of accent' was that they were outlandish in speech and over-impressed by Continental models, an objection which uncannily foreshadows this volume. 'My guiding intuition... is that Shakespeare and his contemporaries had a relationship to sound radically different from our own'. This intuition is not buttressed by the arguments advanced here.

It is certainly true that Elizabethan culture was markedly oral. Hearing was associated with obedience and tradition. A community was 'summoned by bells'. The stage must have thought of its customers as 'audience' rather than 'spectators'. But Mr Folkerth is bent on detecting sound everywhere; so words and non-verbal sounds merge, with him, into a 'soundscape'. This is to muddle together phenomena best kept apart.

Consider this notably dysfunctional sentence: 'Valeria is also keenly aware of her husband's good reputation, and let slip this awareness with one of those marvellous mild oaths that acoustically locates her as the wife of a bourgeois citizen in Shakespeare's day'. Valeria does indeed speak the lines cited, but she is a chaste lady of Rome, not Coriolanus's wife, a distinction that belongs to Virgilia. Can there by anything spoken that does not 'acoustically locate' one? Does 'in troth', with which Valeria begins the line, count as 'acoustics' but not the remaining words in the sentence?

Again, Mr Folkerth lists in one sentence the storm that begins The Tempest, the music in Twelfth Night, the thunder in Macbeth and 'Richard of Gloucester's sly charismatic confidences'. If it registers on a sound-detector, the author wants to talk about it. …

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