Reading Aloud with Tom Hanks: A Reader's Perspective

By Thomas, Paul | Arthuriana, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview

Reading Aloud with Tom Hanks: A Reader's Perspective


Thomas, Paul, Arthuriana


This article traces D. Thomas Hanks, Jr.'s skill as a reader of fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Middle English texts, with special attention to his research into reading Malory aloud and his patience in teaching others to read Le Morte Darthur in the received pronunciation of latefifteenth-century English. (PT)

In the summer of 1988, I first met Tom Hanks at the Sixth New Chaucer Society's Congress at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. But before I met him and saw it wasn't so, I thought it a little unfair that such an up-and-coming actor with almost a dozen films to his credit had also become a Middle English reader! And yet the acting skills seem to go with the name.

A number of us had been recruited by T.L. Burton (Tom), the founding director of the Chaucer Studio, an organization that up to that NCS Congress had recorded two of Chaucer's works at meetings of the Australian and New Zealand Association of Medieval and Renaissance Studies in 1986 and 1988.' With the arrival of Tom Hanks and ten others to read along with Tom Burton and be directed by him during the Sixth NCS Congress, we all had the treat of watching Tom Hanks's prematurely aged reading of the part of January. In the first review of the three NCS Readings that Burton's Chaucer Studio recorded at nearby Burnaby, British Columbia,2 Professor Alan T. Gaylord singled out Tom Hanks's rendering of the noble January, especially in relation to Emerson Brown's 'level, almost dry' voice as he played the Merchant narrator:

The January of D. Thomas Hanks, Jr., is a fully worked out rendition of a semi-senile clown, with a wide frequency range that jumps into excited hypertenor. Furthermore, the prosody is filled with expressive business-pauses, chuckles, stammers, quavers, and so forth. The result of such juxtapositions, if seen acted out might suggest the metaphor of the jazz band. Here is Miles Merchant-Brown at his trumpet, his back to us, as cool as ice, even contemptuous, yet very much worth listening to. But here, now, is Dizzy Hanks-January, stepping up to delivery [sic] some hot licks that delight and amuse us. Everyone takes a turn, and a variety of licks is part of the fun.3

As one of the ten readers in the Merchant's Tale that August day in 1988, let me recall some of my first impressions of Tom Hanks the scholar and reader of Middle English. First of all, rather like Alan Gaylord, who only knew Tom's performance from an audiocassette recording, I was bowled over by Tom's ability to age so quickly. His ability to ad-lib stage business to add to his portrayal of the lecherous senex amans of January would have broken the entire group of readers into uncontrolled hilarity had we not been in a studio with limited time to record in the midst of the congress.

On the other hand, I noted too that day why I would hope to be involved in many future recordings of Middle English with Tom: He was always careful about open ? pronunciations, a touchstone I often use to separate really careful readers of Middle English from the run-of-the-mill sort-both students and teachers. The American way of pronouncing the word law, for example, shows the way we should pronounce those Middle English open o words that represent many words we of the post-Great Vowel Shift English language now pronounce with a long ?-words as common as so and go, for example. In the standard English of residents of Great Britain, a word like law passes through the rounded lips in an obstructing way, whereas in modern American English, we open our mouths for the medieval open o sound of law. Linguists agree that the American way of pronouncing law is closer to Middle English open o, and I noticed right away Tom Hanks kept that distinction in his speech whenever reading Middle English texts.

Another mispronunciation of Middle English that troubles me that, I noted, never came from Tom's lips was the long e pronunciation of the common negation ne. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Reading Aloud with Tom Hanks: A Reader's Perspective
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.