January 31, 2012 - George Bernard Shaw
Pygmalion will be a name familiar to you from the Course and the Introductory Pack, in which our own “Prof” parodies Professor Higgins’ outburst when Eliza Doolittle approaches him to give her lessons in good English speech and pronunciation. The name of Shaw’s wonderful and witty play is the name of an ancient Greek king, who was also a famous sculptor and created a female statue so exquisitely beautiful that he fell in love with it, whereupon Aphrodite, the goddess of love, took pity on him and breathed life into it.
There have been and continue to be countless stage, radio and film performances of the play, which is of timeless popularity. Do go to a live performance if you can, as it is a marvellously stage-worthy play, but whether you manage to see it on stage or not, we strongly recommend you to watch the superb black-and-white-film of 1938, featuring Leslie Howard, Wendy Hiller and Anthony Asquith – unless you have broken your ribs, in which case your laughter would be much too painful! You will also find that our own Andrew Havill bears an incredible resemblance to Leslie Howard in that film. And do buy the text as well. Both the DVD and the text are inexpensive and remarkably good value for money (and the Penguin Classics paperback text we recommend does not subscribe to Shaw’s eccentric and obsessive refusal to use apostrophes, which is very tiresome even if genius can be forgiven almost everything!).
You may also enjoy the musical My Fair Lady based on the play. The film version we recommend features Rex Harrison as Professor Higgins and Audrey Hepburn as Eliza.
Pygamalion ‒ DVD of superb 1938 film version of the play – very highly recommended!
Pygamalion: A Romance in Five Acts ‒ paperback text (Penguin Classics)
My Fair Lady ‒ DVD of the 1965 stage musical
January 27, 2012 - Shakespeare, England’s immortal bard
Genius is a much overused word but it truly applies to the Bard of Avon, whose work is as much loved and performed now in the reign of Queen Elizabeth II as it was when Queen Elizabeth I was on the throne. In fact, it is now more loved and infinitely more widely performed. There can be few if any languages in the world into which it has not been translated, and Shakespeare’s timeless insight into universal human nature makes it as appealing to an African township as to an audience in the West End of London.
For the strict purpose of following up the English Speech and Pronunciation Course you will of course find dialects in many of the plays, but you will be hearing the standard English pronunciation from English actors playing the majority of the main roles. As to speech rather than pronunciation, the English of the sixteenth century is not the same as that of the twenty-first, but today’s speech is nevertheless as full of phrases and quotations from Shakespeare as it is from the King James Bible (even if those who use them have no idea where they come from and may never have read a word either of Shakespeare or the Bible).
Do go and see a play whenever you are in London or Stratford, and there are many DVD collections of filmed plays or film adaptations coming out all the time. But just to get a flavour of the essence of Shakespeare with good pronunciation we suggest two inexpensive CDs.
The first, From Shakespeare With Love, features Shakespeare’s love poetry, the exquisitely beautiful sonnets being beautifully read by David Tennant, Juliet Stevenson, Anton Lesser and Alex Jennings.
The second is The Essential Shakespeare Live: The Royal Shakespeare Company in Performance, which is a collection of twenty famous extracts from the plays as recorded on the British Library’s Sound Archives. The actors speaking the chosen pieces include many of the greatest names from four decades of The Royal Shakespeare Company productions – from Laurence Olivier as Coriolanus (1951) to Judy Dench in All’s Well That Ends Well (2002).
Or if you wish to see the plays on a screen – and plays were written to be seen as well as heard, as indeed our English Speech and Pronunciation Course was ‒ we recommend you to consider the following two boxed sets.
The BBC Shakespeare Collection, which is a lavish boxed set of 37 DVDs containing the BBC’s adaptations of 34 Shakespeare plays. With occasional lapses the general standard is excellent, and they feature some of the finest acting talent of the age. At first glance it seems expensive, but actually it is astonishing good value for 34 full length plays, and we strongly recommend it.
The Laurence Olivier Shakespeare Collection is a boxed set of seven DVDs giving seven plays starring that incomparable Shakespearian actor, Sir Laurence Olivier. The plays are Henry V, Hamlet, King Lear, Merchant of Venice, Richard III and As You Like It. This really is marvellous, and would still be good value (as would our course) at ten times the price!
From Shakespeare With Love - CD of Shakespeare’s poems
The Essential Shakespeare Live: The Royal Shakespeare Company in Performance - CD featuring twenty famous extracts from Shakespeare’s plays (perfect while travelling!)
The BBC Shakespeare Collection - DVD collection of Shakespeare’s plays
The Laurence Olivier Shakespeare Collection - DVD collection of 7 plays