How Were Shakespeare's Plays REALLY Pronounced In His Time?

How Were Shakespeare's Plays REALLY Pronounced In His Time?

It involves seeing the specific time period when English would have been spoken.

Scholar Spotlight: David Crystal

We usually think of Shakespeare's plays, such as "Romeo and Juliet" and "A Midsummer Night's Dreams," being narrated in what we would typically hear as British accents. However, it may not have always been like this. It is important to note that during Shakespeare's time, there was a transition from Middle English in the 14th century to the English that we know as Modern English. This is why the English Shakespeare spoke is referred to as Early Modern English. This time period in English language history was called the Great Vowel Shift. There were Middle English words like wyfe [wee-fuh] that dropped the phonetics of the "e" endings, used by Geoffrey Chaucer in the "Canterbury Tales" in Middle English, and became pronounced [weyef] during this transitional period.

There is a British linguist by the name of David Crystal who has been setting out to reconstruct the Shakespearean dialect, in cooperation with the University of Kansas. He has been an important scholar in the reconstruction of Shakespeare's Early Modern English. His son, Shakespearean actor Ben Crystal, described the Original Pronunciation as having an "earthy sound" that can speed the performance.

The most important clue originates from the audience members transcribing the plays in their best phonetic spelling and the words on Shakespeare's grave. Understanding how words were spoken means understanding how they were written or, in the case of the printing press, published. Prior to the introduction of the printing press in 1476 by William Caxton, Middle English did not have standardization. The investment into ink and leaden type effected how punctuations and the amount of "e"s would be needed, which ultimately altered the grammar into what was called Early Modern English. Although Latin and French were the languages of prestige in England, English became published more until England became independent of the Latin-using Catholic Church in 1536 when Early Modern English developed.

Another clue is the way, by our own Modern English perspective, the lines in Shakespeare's plays do not seem to rhyme, such as words like "eye" and "company." At the ends of both words, they were actually pronounced [uh-ee], so the words were vocalized [uh-ee] and [cump-nuh-ee]. Crystal makes note of grammarian commentaries written at the time about how to pronounce the letters, which syllable was stressed, and which words rhymed, most notably Ben Jonson.

This research would be important in recovering the puns that would have brought a chuckle from the Globe Theater audience. An example of such a line comes from Shakespeare's play "Julius Caesar" where Cassius says, "Now it is Rome indeed and room enough, when there is in it but one man." The word "Rome," in Early Modern English, was pronounced [room], which does make a significant distinction between the other word "room." This would create a ripple effect into how Shakespeare is taught and quoted in American schools and universities. By reconstructing the Shakespearean dialect means a better understanding of his plays through a Modern English translation.

There are also remnants of Early Modern English found in regional dialects of English, either in England proper or in Wales, Ireland, Canada, and even here in the United States. What I found interesting was when Crystal mentioned that the same Early Modern English that Shakespeare spoke was brought into American through the Mayflower by the Pilgrims.

It is a sign that Shakespeare is more relevant to American literary identity than we might expect. It is also another reason why this research is important, as it no longer associates Shakespeare's works with the elitist posh that is spoken, rather with the inheritors of the dialect spoken at the time. It makes his works more relevant and well-connected to English-speaking people around the world and elevates Shakespeare as not another old, privileged White man, but as one of the innovators of the English language.

Report this Content
This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

By now, it is safe to declare "Outer Banks" on Netflix as THE TV Show of quarantine.

"Tiger King" got out to an early lead, but since, the Pogues and the Kooks have owned pop culture conversations while everyone has been couped up this spring amidst a global pandemic. And if you are one of the very few people out there in the world that has not heard about "Outer Banks" and or haven't binged it yet, well...

Keep Reading... Show less
Health and Wellness

I Spoke To A California ER Doctor About COVID-19, And Y'all, Our Healthcare Workers Know What's Up

In light of what's going on in the world, it's time to get some front-line perspective.

It seems like the only thing I do these days is scroll through social media in a desperate attempt to gain information. My phone has called me out on my screen time more than once, and I just continue to ignore it. You're probably in the same boat — stuck at home, scrolling deeper and deeper into a hole of conspiracy theories and possible "back to normalcy" dates, hungry for information.

While we know that the news is not our mental health's friend these days, getting reliable information is helpful and necessary.

Keep Reading... Show less

While parts of the U.S. are beginning to re-open after months in quarantine, the future of date nights at home is still bright — because, let's face it, wearing masks to a fancy restaurant with your boo in the coming months just doesn't sound fun.

So, if you're looking to have a little romantic fun indoors, we've got just the games for you. Click through the slideshow below for 11 couples games that'll help you two become closer than ever.

Keep Reading... Show less

I've always been interested in any product that can get me the Jennifer Lopez-esque natural glow. I'm Indian and have medium-toned skin, so getting darker was never really the goal. Rather, I've always looked for a product that would even out my skin tone and cellulite, basically making my legs look Photoshopped.

Now more than ever we're craving that healthy, tan glow most of us only get after spending a week poolside with margarita in hand. We may not be spending an SPF-soaked summer hitting on our local lifeguards. But when we're going on socially-distanced walks outside, taking viral-worthy selfies, or just want to test out the best self-tanners for when you do finally get to show off all the bikinis you binge-purchased through your quarantine boredom, these are the best to ways to glow up, no matter your shade of skin, whether you have uber-sensitive eczema-ridden skin, or just want J-Lo glow, smooth legs.

Keep Reading... Show less
Health and Wellness

Quarantine Checkup Week 10: It's Officially Summer, Even In Quarantine

An Odyssey panel discussion about all things quarantine.

Thanks to coronavirus (COVID-19), most of the United States has gone into its own version of quarantine. While no one loves this new way of life we're adjusting to, it's the necessity that will eventually help us fling open our front doors and frolic freely once again!

Premature thinking? Maybe. But while we're in the midst of this quarantine time, we're chatting about the most terrifying, the funniest, and the weirdest thing that quarantine has forced us into recently.

Keep Reading... Show less
Health and Wellness

I Spoke To A Virginia RN About COVID-19 And It Made Me Question EVERYTHING

Everyone is concerned about COVID-19, but the healthcare workers are who really know what's up.

Photo by Luke Jones on Unsplash

As an introvert, I was already accustomed to staying at home more than your average twenty-something and therefore confident in my ability to ride the pandemic out at home — so I thought. When the choice of staying home was taken away, I found my mental health suffering more than usual as I started to feel trapped. All of us are feeling the weight of this pandemic in one way or another, but healthcare workers are seeing a side of the situation that not everyone is privy to. My mother is a registered nurse in the Richmond, Virginia area whose urgent care center has turned into a COVID-19 testing site. She's here to give us some insight.

How long have you been a registered nurse?

Keep Reading... Show less

13 Father's Day Shirts Under $30 To Gift The Dad Wearing The Same Two Every Day In Quarantine

You've been begging him to change it up, and now he won't have a choice.

Let's be honest: most of our dads are wearing the same shirts today that they probably wore while changing our diapers and holding our hands as we learned to walk. Sure, we love them for it. But whether you're quarantined with him wearing the same two shirts on rotation every week, or every time you FaceTime him, you know what he'll be wearing before he answers the phone, he needs to add some new items to his wardrobe rotation.

And you know dads — they'll feel guilted into using practically anything you were to give them. But these shirts are sure-fire ways to get him to switch up his wardrobe, and he'll be more than excited to wear each and every one of them. Plus, most of them are under twenty dollars, so no harm in dropping more than a couple in to your cart and letting Dad have his pick of his favorites.

Keep Reading... Show less
Facebook Comments