Why Amazon Alexa reciting Shakespeare is surprisingly successful
Shakespeare’s birthday is April 23, and he would have been 457 this year. To celebrate World Shakespeare Day, Amazon introduced Bard-related items to Amazon Echo.
Regular readers will know that I work as an actor as well, so I really shivered at the thought of how this was going to turn out. Of course we all speak Shakespearean regularly, when we say “fair play”, “for goodness sake” or any of the hundreds of phrases the playwright came up with that have stuck with us.
But now Amazon had taught Alexa to speak like Shakespeare. In fact, if you say “Alexa, speak like Shakespeare,” the Echo speaker will respond with a series of choice quotes. These are pronounced with very little conviction, tolerable to listen to, only sometimes with a poorly emphasized emphasis, but nothing more. At least that’s a good way to get acquainted with lines from The Tempest, Twelfth Night, and more.
Other commands include “Alexa, tell me a Shakespearean insult,” which is pretty funny. Or you can play a bigger role yourself by saying “Alexa, Romeo, Romeo, why are you Romeo?” and Alexa will complete the verse. The same goes for “Alexa, to be or not to be”.
But my greatest apprehension came when I said, “Alexa, recite a Shakespearean sonnet.”
Sonnets are Shakespeare’s greatest poetry, the words he thought would outlive his plays. They’re focused, contain only one powerful thought, and would ideally be delivered on a single breath (I haven’t met an actor who can do this yet).
But there are certain rules that the actors know: respect the meter, observe the counterpoint, rely on a regular rhythm and, above all, go to the end of the line.
The last word in the line is almost always the most important in the line, and the natural instinct is to stop, however imperceptibly, before the next line. Running to the end of a line is often a way for an actor to derail quickly.
I only heard two sonnets from Alexa, number 33, which begins
“I saw a lot of glorious mountains
Flatter the mountain peaks with a sovereign eye ”.
We’re not getting off to a great start as Alexa runs from the first line to the second, making the lines run together, diminishing the meaning, not to mention the poetry.
However, things are starting to improve and there is a pretty good sensitivity.
lexa The second is Sonnet 18:
“Am I to compare you to a summer day?”
You are more beautiful and more tempered. “
It’s one of the finest pieces of poetry in the English language, so I feared the worst.
Again, there’s a slightly mediocre start, with an overemphasis on “art” in the second line, and further down the word Death, one of the most important in the sonnet, is underrated. But in between, there is real sensitivity, good timing and admirable clarity.
There are also soliloquies by Henri V and Julius Caesar, for example, which are rather more pedestrian.
The point is, while this experience doesn’t replace a human being (and actors have nothing to fear, they won’t be laid off by Alexa), these sonnets are clear indications of how far Alexa has come. And if even a Shakespeare snob like me can get anything out of it, then it might be worth trying Shakespeare’s controls.