The real winter of our discontent

My previous post put me in mind to search YouTube for this: Laurence Olivier delivering the opening soliloquy from Shakespeare’s Richard III:

Good job, YouTube!

Because this is my blog and not yours, here’s the actual soliloquy, which ain’t quite the same:

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this son of York;
And all the clouds that lowered upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths,
Our bruisèd arms hung up for monuments,
Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings,
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.
Grim-visaged war hath smoothed his wrinkled front,
And now, instead of mounting barbèd steeds
To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,
He capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.
But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;
I, that am rudely stamped, and want love’s majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
I, that am curtailed of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling Nature,
Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them–
Why I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to see my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity.
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determinèd to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,
By drunk prophecies, libels, and dreams,
To set my brother Clarence and the king
In deadly hate the one against the other;
And if King Edward be as true and just
As I am subtle, false, and treacherous,
This day should Clarence closely be mewed up
About a prophecy which says that G
Of Edward’s heirs the murderer shall be.
Dive, thoughts, down to my soul — here Clarence comes!

Wikipedia tells me something I didn’t know: the U.S. release of the film occurred simultaneously in theaters and on TV in 1956:

The release was unique in that the film had its US premiere on the same day both on television and in cinemas, the first instance of this ever being done. It was not shown during prime time, but rather in the afternoon, so prime time ratings for that day were not affected by any pre-emptions for a special program. It is quite likely that it was the first three-hour telecast of a film or a Shakespeare play ever to be shown.

It says that between 25 and 40 million people saw the film on TV.  Which makes me think that more people saw this film than any other production of any Shakespeare play ever.

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Boston accents

I have never lived more than twenty miles away from Boston.  I was born and raised there.  I went to high school in the Boston neighborhood known as Dawchestuh — the same school where Whitey Bulger’s brother, Billy Bulger, also went.  (In Boston, Dorchester Avenue is invariably referred to in speech as “Dot Ave.”)  When I went off to college, I manage to travel all the way to Cambridge, one city to the north, where I once actually did pahk my cah in Hahvid Yahd.  (That’s not really a thing they let you do.)

When people become aware of this sad fact about me, their first response is usually: “But you don’t have a Boston accent!”  And that’s true.  But, like any Bostonian, I notice when actors don’t get the accent right.  Which is more often than not.  But it’s never been clear to me that this is because the accent is, well, hahd, or because I’m just so attuned to it.  Do people from Louisiana grouse about the accents in True Detective?  What do folks from Baltimore think when they watch The Wire?

Here’s an interview with a Boston-area casting director (about fifteen minutes into the episode), who says the Boston accent is one of the hardest ones to get right.  But I think she underestimates the difficulty in a few ways:

  • She says most actors, like Jack Nicholson in The Departed, are inconsistent about dropping their R’s.  But I think sometimes actors are too consistent.  The casting director herself pronounced lots of R’s, but she was consistent in saying “hahd” and “heah”, which is what you want.
  • She neglects to mention another aspect of the Boston accent — putting in R’s where they don’t belong.  This is the biggest temptation I have: for example, my first instinct is to say “I sawr it” instead of “I saw it.”   (I can remember way back when I was learning to read, being puzzled when I saw that sentence in print for the first time — what happened to the R that I clearly heard everyone say?)  A somewhat lesser temptation is to say “dater” instead of “data”.
  • Finally, there’s more than one Boston accent.  In movies you typically hear the straight-on streets-of-Southie accent.  The actress who plays the wife on Ray Donovan does a good version of this (she’s from Belfast).  The Kennedys, of course, have their own weird version of the accent.  And there’s a different patrician version that you don’t hear much anymore.  But most people I know just have the merest trace of an accent — just enough to make it clear where they’re from.

Although most of my novels are set in or around Boston or have Boston characters, I’ve never been tempted to try to do a Boston accent in print.  Just too distracting for the reader.  You just have to imagine the accent is there.