Indiana University professor presents groundbreaking 'King Lear' in original pronunciation

  • April 19, 2016


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University associate professor Murray McGibbon will present the first original pronunciation performance of William Shakespeare's "King Lear" since the 17th century.

In Shakespeare's play, Lear is an aging monarch whose misguided decisions have dire consequences for those close to him. The "New Frontiers Special Production: The King Lear Project" will be staged May 5 to 8 at the Wells-Metz Theatre at Indiana University Bloomington.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hear the language as it was spoken when it was directed by Shakespeare," said McGibbon, an associate professor in the Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance.

Made possible by a grant from IU's New Frontiers in the Arts and Humanities program, the production coincides with commencement weekend, so area visitors will have the chance to attend.

Original pronunciation, also known as OP, is based on the extensive research and theory of British linguist David Crystal, a prolific author who also has served as "Master of Pronunciation" at the Globe Theatre in London.

When the Globe presented "Romeo and Juliet" in original pronunciation in 2004, new rhymes, puns, meanings and emotions emerged from Shakespeare's written text.

Last year, McGibbon studied with Crystal in Great Britain. Now an advisor to IU's New Frontiers Special Production, Crystal has recorded hours of word-by-word pronunciation guides for IU's "King Lear" cast.

The historical diction will be illuminating in this play, too. "Our exploration of the text in original pronunciation has revealed rhymes and cadences that make the lines ring with a newfound earthiness and resonance," said Graham Hopkins, a renowned South African actor who will portray King Lear.

Hopkins will be joined at Indiana University by a cast of 14 students.

"Working with a very talented group of undergraduate and graduate students at IU, under the expert guidance of Professor McGibbon, is a great privilege," he said. "I am hugely impressed with the professional commitment, passion and energy with which the students are approaching the work."

Both the lead actor and director agree that in original pronunciation, many lines should make more sense to audiences.

"It's a much rougher, visceral way of delivering the text," McGibbon said. "People sometimes expect a more refined, loftier form of language in OP, but it's actually quite guttural. It delivers the feeling of the play with a stronger punch."

"Gone is the 'posh' sound," Hopkins said.

"It's really quite accessible," McGibbon said.

To accentuate the rough-hewn sound of original pronunciation, McGibbon has chosen to present "Lear" in a dystopian landscape. "It's all been bombed to bits. They've lost everything, including their language," he said. "So, as they cobble together the remnants of their language and society, this new -- but also very old -- way of speaking emerges from them."

McGibbon spent the better part of three years working on his conception of "King Lear," paring the play down to its essential core. "For me it's the tragedy of a family -- that was once united -- divided," he said.

As a director, he said one of the challenges is to make the story "immediate and startling."

Another is to translate Shakespeare in the round with a minimal set. "Basically, what I have to do is carve the air with the actor's bodies," he said.

Well-versed as a Shakespearean director, McGibbon has published acting editions of "Hamlet," "Romeo and Juliet," "A Midsummer Night's Dream," "The Tempest" and now "King Lear."

McGibbon said of "King Lear," "It's a mountain that I have to climb. It seems to be this huge, gothic cathedral of a play."

About the production: "New Frontiers Special Production: The King Lear Project" will be presented in original pronunciation at 7:30 p.m. May 5 to 7 and at 2 p.m. May 7 and 8 in the Wells-Metz Theatre, Lee Norvelle Drama Center, 275 N. Jordan Ave., Bloomington, Ind. Tickets are available online through the IU Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance website or in person at the IU Auditorium Box Office. Cost is $20 general admission, $15 for students.

About Murray McGibbon: A member of the Indiana University faculty since 1996, Murray McGibbon is a prominent director and producer in South Africa. He won the country’s highest award in theater, the NALEDI, six times. He served as artistic director of drama for the Playhouse Company in Durban, where he produced 122 productions and directed 40. At IU, he has directed more than 30 productions, including "Equus," "When the Rain Stops Falling," "M. Butterfly," "The Tempest," "Hamlet," "Romeo and Juliet," "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and, most recently, "Noises Off." His work has been performed before three reigning monarchs: Queen Elizabeth II, King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu and King Sobhuza III.

About Graham Hopkins: Actor Graham Hopkins, who plays King Lear, was born in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, and attended Hilton College and the University of Natal (now the University of KwaZulu-Natal). After briefly teaching math and English, he began his successful career in radio, television, film and theater in South Africa. Hopkins won a Star Tonight Best TV actor award for playing Cecil John Rhodes in "Barney Barnato," a Vita Award for his film role as Bruce in "The Native Who Caused All The Trouble," and Dalro Awards for performances as Henry Higgins in the 1990 State Theatre production of "My Fair Lady" and Urgentino in "Scenes From an Execution" at the Market Theatre.

"It is surely every actor's dream to have the opportunity to play King Lear, arguably the finest role in the entire canon of Shakespeare's classical heroes," Hopkins said. "To play it in the original pronunciation, for the first time in many centuries, is both an exciting challenge and an audial revelation. In an instant, the linguistic divide of the Atlantic Ocean seems to contract and we experience sounds that are both new and strangely familiar to us all."

Related Links

Murray McGibbon

Murray McGibbon

Print-Quality Photo

Media Contacts

Murray McGibbon

Associate professor, Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance

  • Office 812-855-7052