Talking to the Public

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There are various styles of Living History but the two most common involve third person and first person presentation. Neither is right or wrong: some people prefer the one and feel uncomfortable with the other while some are happy with both.

THIRD AND FIRST PERSON PRESENTING

In third person Living History, the presenter is in costume but the way in which they talk about their subject makes it plain that they are in the present day and not pretending to be in the period that they represent. This enables them to make comparisons with the present day.

First person Living History presenters, on the other hand, are in costume and behave as if they are in the period they represent. For example if you go to Shugborough Hall in Staffordshire and talk to one of the servants, they will be puzzled if you mention modern equipment such as televisions because they behave as if it is 1876.

It is for the individual to decide whether they prefer first or third person presenting.

Either approach is likely to involve talking to the public. This is a subject that causes concern for many re-enactors but it is relatively straightforward.

STYLE OF SPEECH

There are many theories about the way people talked in the past. There are only two certainties about speech in the second half of the seventeenth century: there are no sound recordings so it is impossible to be absolutely certain about speech patterns and Received Pronunciation (or BBC English as it is sometimes known) is a relatively recent development so would not have been heard. Everybody would have spoken with an accent but the accents would have been as varied as they are today, though far stronger and using many more dialect words. So there is no need to adopt a false accent and there is good reason to avoid the Mummerset type of false West Country accent so often adopted to suggest an historical figure. The best solution is to maintain your own accent.

Presenters are often concerned about using the correct words. It is possible to get an idea of speech patterns by reading, for example, Samuel Pepys’ diary, the Authorised Version of the Bible or the 1662 version of The Book of Common Prayer. However, the public is generally not that concerned about whether or not re-enactors are speaking as people would have spoken in the 17th century. They are usually more interested in being able to understand what is said although there are guidelines that need to be followed.

Avoid the ‘By my troth sirrah, I will avenge the wench’s honour before this day is out’ type of speech. It might be acceptable in a pantomime but it won’t work in a re-enactment camp. Words such as ye should not be used either (as in ‘ye soldiers’) because that was merely a printing convention used to represent the word 'the'. Avoid, too, modern terminology such as OK, isn’t, won’t and so on. Use instead Yes, is not and will not. If you want to sound a little more in period then you could use expressions such ‘ten of the clock’ or ‘Ten a’clock’ instead of ‘ten o’clock’.

The most important point to remember is that it is more important to be able to talk in an informative manner about life in the second half of the 17th century. Fascinate the public with information rather than try to dazzle them with language.

FURTHER READING

Roth, Stacy F., Past Into Present - Effective Techniques for First-Person Historical Interpretation, 1998, The University of North Carolina Press (available for Kindle)


(c) 2011 Ken Clayton