“The accent of his tongue affecteth him:” “Accentism” and/in Shakespeare


Carla Della Gatta (University of Southern California, USA)

Adele Lee (University of Greenwich, UK)


The sound of Shakespeare’s dialogue in various languages has much to do with the accent in which his plays are performed. From the British John Gielgud’s distinctively mannered voice to the rich, bass-tones of the American Paul Robeson and the lyrical cadences of the Italian Ernesto Rossi, stage actors have defined and defied the “proper” Shakespearean accent. Yet acting methods, cultural hierarchies, and the Shakespeare industry continues to pressurise actors, directors and dramaturgs to streamline or “elevate” their accents, while others find themselves typecast and their accents deployed for comical effect. Of course Shakespeare himself delineated characters linguistically and frequently refers to “plain,” “fine,” “rough,” “heavy” and even “Christian” accents in his plays.

This seminar seeks to explore the aural distinctions and consequences of accentism – an under-researched topic that is not dissimilar from (and often intersects with) racism, sexism and classism – across languages and cultures. How do accents work to distinguish characters from different regions (Wales, Denmark, Venice) when performed in English-speaking countries today? In non-English countries and productions, what affect do “foreign” accents have on performance reception? And how are Shakespeare’s textual cues translated for the stage?

Not enough attention has been paid to the dramatist’s varied and pointed use of accents to denote Otherness and to convey certain traits. Nor, despite the publication of the British Library’s Shakespeare’s Original Pronunciation CD, has the question of how Shakespearean English was pronounced at the time been fully resolved, and speculation as to whether Appalachian-American or “Old Country” accents are “closer” than contemporary English to how Shakespeare originally sounded continues.

Believing that accentism is a relatively under-theorized topic in the Shakespeare industry, we aim to probe discussion into the history, nature and effects of accentism and invite papers on the following topics:

  • The search for an “authentic” sounding Shakespeare
  • The effect of hearing and/or performing Shakespeare in different accents
  • The exclusion, stereotyping, and language used for “non-standard” English speakers
  • The accent-specific nature of Shakespearean roles
  • Shakespeare’s treatment of regional and/or foreign accents
  • Theatre practitioners who have influenced the perception of a “correct” accent
  • Translating Shakespeare’s accents into other languages and cultures

We welcome papers that examine specific theatre productions, actors, repertories, or that take on these questions more broadly in a theoretical, historical, and methodological context.


Please send 150-word abstracts and biographies to before 31 March 2017.