Shakespeare Saturday: Accents

Hello and welcome readers to Shakespeare Saturday, wherein the Nerd Cacti elucidate upon our love for the Bard. And normally, this would be no problem because who doesn’t love the Bard? (Don’t answer that. I don’t want to know how many people out there are cretins.) But today is the Fourth of July! It’s ‘Merica Day, and what kind of American would I be if I didn’t sally forth on some borderline jingoistic endeavor with bald eagles, guns, and bad beer?

I tried putting a picture of just a bald eagle and an American flag, but…I couldn’t do it. I find the whole concept too ridiculous. So I went with Colbert, instead. We can all agree on Colbert, right?

Well, while I’m putting my house on lock down in preparation for the Chinese-enabled simulated war zone that is my neighborhood for the next few hours, I thought I’d share a blog post that I found remarkably interesting. It’s about Shakespearean accents.

We all know that the standard modern English accent (the one the average American tries to do, badly) did not exist at the time Big Willy was writing his fabulous plays. When you hear the Queen speak, you are not hearing what her namesake (y’know, the first Elizabeth that was Queen in her own right) would have sounded like. Her accent developed as a backlash against the Industrial Revolution, so the aristocrats could distinguish themselves from those people who’d dared become rich in…trade. *shudder* It’s actually similar to the effete Southern accent put on by every Robert E. Lee in every movie ever. You’d actually be surprised how much the South (the American one, in case that wasn’t obvious by the Robert E. Lee references above) and its culture (if it can be said to have possessed a unifying culture at all) existed as a reflection of the aristocratic, class-conscious nation from whence we won our freedom. You’ll find more anglophiles in the South than just about anywhere.

In fact, Robert E. Lee genuinely believed in the notion that certain families of old, respected name/blood and property should be the ones in charge and making all the decisions. It didn’t matter if they weren’t rich anymore (the Lees absolutely weren’t wealthy–in fact, most of Lee’s wealth and property came from his wife’s family, including Arlington itself), or other families had risen to influence via trade or hard work (the nouveau riche, as it were). There was a sense that class and status couldn’t be earned, but were a reflection of something in the blood.

Wait…what was I talking about? How did this turn into a history in Southern identity (again, if there could be said to be a unified Southern identity during the first century of America’s existence)? I have no idea. But I’m not erasing all of this and rewriting it, so…congratulations, reader, you get a free lecture on Robert E. Lee and how he was a damned elitist. To be fair, he could be a pretty good dude, and was a damn fine soldier. Also…I know U.S. Grant has earned the reputation for being a butcher due to his willingness to sacrifice his men for victory, but Lee very much deserves to share that reputation. Both of them were willing to send every last man they had against the enemy if it meant winning. It’s just that Grant had more men to spare.

Also…Shakespeare sounded more like the Mid-Atlantic accent than the Queen. So…it’s totally OK do to Hamlet in an American accent. Just read the article below before I give you a blow-by-blow of the complicated dichotomy that is the American political identity, even unto today. Skip. SKIP AHEAD.

Here’s the article (sorry…I skipped ahead with you, apparently):

Tomorrow, we get silly…er. Sillier. Today was pretty silly. Sorry about that.



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