Accents and Original Pronunciation as Tools for Teaching and Performing Shakespeare in South Africa

  • Fiona Ramsay


In multicultural and multilingual South Africa, recent initiatives to decolonise curricula have suggested dispensing with the works of Shakespeare and other ‘Western’ texts to make space for African and postcolonial texts. The elevated and archaic language of classical texts often proves difficult for students to access comprehensively and discourages their interest or engagement. This article gives an account of the author’s interventions in the field of Theatre and Performance, and specifically vocal pedagogy, to tackle the language conundrum and therefore to broaden entry into and to invigorate Shakespeare’s plays. The study of Original Pronunciation (OP) is proposed as a means of ‘levelling the playing field’. In the project described, characters from the Shakespearean canon are chosen as possibly representative of individual students’ cultural backgrounds; then key speeches are translated into students’ first/home languages, spoken in the accents of those languages, shared and discussed before an engagement with the sounds of OP. The project culminates in a production and an analysis of how the language shifts described can increase access to, and understanding of, text. The article concludes that the exploration of accents and OP in studying Shakespeare’s works proves an invaluable tool.