Shakespeare: Original pronunciation (The Open University)


The Globe Theatre which opened in 1994,
very near to its former site, specializes in original productions of Shakespeare.
But it wasn’t until 2004, that a play was performed in the original pronunciation,
known as OP. The play was Romeo and Juliet. Well the globe is known for its original practices, this is why it is here, to try and recreate the theatre as it was in 1600 and thereabouts. And when they started it off they decided to do original costume, original music with original instruments, original movement around the stage and so on. But they never did original pronunciation because they thought, quite wrongly, but
understandably, they thought nobody would understand it. It was a very very
successful occasion, the seats were packed for that weekend. Everybody loved
it and it was such a success that The Globe then decided to do a second
production the following year, production of Troilus and Cressida. It transports
you back through the centuries. It’s a very magical, almost hair-raising
experience, especially in this space to hear that accent of space that’s that’s
sort of as close as we can get to a 400 -year-old theatre. And then an accent that’s as close as we can get to a 400-year-old accent with a 400-year-old play. It if anything it rounds the experience of going to see a Shakespeare play out. Any period in the history of the English language can be studied from the point of view of how it was pronounced at the time, Old English, Chaucer and so on. In relation to Shakespeare, we’re talking about the sound system or phonology that was in use in a period called Early Modern English, and in the period specifically round about the year 1600. Now, it’s a period during which
pronunciation was changing very very rapidly, so there isn’t just one kind of
OP, there’s an OP that that evolves throughout the period. For example, early
on in the period, people were pronouncing the word musician, as musician, musician. Later in the period it had evolved into musician, and of course, later still, it became musician. David Crystal and his son Ben regularly
work together, to demonstrate how original pronunciation differs from
modern pronunciation. It’s an interesting accent to tune your ear into, so we’re
going to run through a few pieces of Shakespeare, first in a modern sort of
received pronunciation accent, the accent that you used to hear in Shakespearean.
And then we’ll switch into original pronunciation, and probably, Dad will do
some and I’ll do some as well so you get to hear it in a different voice. Their
first example comes from Henry V, then gives the modern pronunciation and
David the OP. “Oh. for a muse of fire that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention!” “Oh for a muse of fire that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention!” “A kingdom for a stage, princes to act, and monarchs to behold the swelling scene!” “A kingdom for a stage, princes to act, and monarchs to behold the swelling scene!” “Then should the warlike Harry, like himself, Assume the port of Mars.” “Then should the warlike Harry, like himself, Assume the port of Mars.” “… and at his heels, Leashed in like hounds, should famine, sword, and fire Crouch for employment.” “… and at his heels, Leashed in like hounds, should famine, sword, and fire Crouch for employment.” How do you know that that was original pronunciation? Well there are three kinds of evidence that you look for when you’re working out the pronunciation of a stage in the history of the language. The first and
the most important piece of evidence is the observations made by people who are writing on the language at the time. There were several people who actually commented on how words sounded, which words rhymed, and so on. For example, how do we know that the ‘r’ is pronounced at such a time? Well, Ben
Jonson, the dramatist, actually tells us at one point. He says we pronounce the ‘r’
after a vowel, he actually calls it a doggy sound, ‘Gurr’, or something like that. And so that kind of evidence, when you look at all the sounds, all the vowels, all the consonants, you put it together and that’s the first kind. the second kind of evidence is the spellings that people use at the time. The spellings were a much better guide to
pronunciation then than spelling is today. So at one point in Romeo and
Juliet the word ‘film’ is spelt ‘philome’ therefore ‘fil-um’ and that’s a very
important indication. With the third kind of evidence, which is absolutely critical
from a dramatic point of view, is that there are rhymes and puns, which don’t
work in Modern English that do work in OP. One I remember that we did at The Globe here was the pun that suddenly leaped out at us in the prologue to Romeo and
Juliet. You do that one? Right so, “Two households, both alike in dignity, In
fair Verona, where we lay our scene, From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean. From forth the fatal loins of these two
foes a pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life; Whose misadventured piteous
overthrows do with their death bury their parents’ strife.” And it’s the “loins'”…”from forth the fatal loins”. Now the thing is “loins” was pronounced
“loins” and the word “lines” was pronounced “loins”, so there is a pun on “loins” and “lines”. Genealogical lines on the one hand and
physical loins on the other, which is completely missed if you do it in in
Modern English, it’s a good example. David and Ben have also discovered that nearly two thirds of Shakespeare’s sonnets have rhymes that don’t work in Modern English,
that do work in OP. Give us a good one go on, one one six? I think, you
know, one one six is interesting because lots of people have it at their
weddings and they think of it as being a very sort of you know highfalutin sonnet…
“Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments…” but it completely
changes in OP, particularly because of the rhymes. “Love’s not time’s
fool, though rosy lips and cheeks within his bending sickle’s compass come; love
alters not with his brief hours and weeks, but bears it out even to the edge of doom. If this be error and upon me prov’d, I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d. Yeah,
“prov’d” and “lov’d”… I mean it’s a lovely ending isn’t it? “Prov’d” and “lov’d”
it doesn’t work. It completely falters it… “If this be error and upon me prov’d, I
never writ nor no man ever lov’d”. That’s right, doesn’t quite work. When Romeo and Juliet was performed at The Globe, David and Ben were advisers on the production. One of the most interesting things was the way in which the actors all said
that the OP altered their performance quite fundamentally. You have to remember the the play was being done in two versions that year. There was a modern
English version and an OP version as well. The actors had to learn the thing
twice, and it just changed the way they perceive their characters, didn’t it, Ben? It
did, well I mean it’s a lot faster the accent you know, with modern
Shakespeare it’s often very reverential in the way we pronounce it, you
know it’s, “assume the port of Mars”, it’s much faster in OP, it’s, “assume the port
of Mars.” The OP Romeo and Juliet was ten minutes faster, but it does something else to you as well, to me, it drops my voice,
I use my bottom register a lot more, you know, that “assume the port of Mars”, it
makes me sort of hunker down, doesn’t sort of seem so cut off from the neck,
you know, “Oh, for a muse of fire” and it connects with the body a bit more for
some reason. It’s an earthier accent. The experience of Romeo and Juliet also
demonstrated, that far from making Shakespeare more difficult to understand,
it can actually make the original meaning clearer, as can be seen in this extract from ‘As You Like It’. “And so from hour to hour we ripe and ripe. And then from hour to hour we rot and rot and thereby hangs a tale.” It’s really, really rude sex joke he’s talking about prostitutes and you know the King’s evil and all that kind of thing. It’s completely missed when you do it in a modern accent. The last time I saw ‘As You Like It’ the actor came to the front and said “And so from hour to hour we ripe and ripe, and from hour to hour we rot and rot and thereby hangs a tale, anyway…” You know, the gag is completely missed.
What we see is a joke working that doesn’t work in Modern English, and it’s all based on one very simple sound shift. The pronunciation of
“whore” as “ore” you’ll notice two things about it the ‘h’ drops at the beginning, ‘h’
often dropped in early Modern English in that way, and you get this
other change “our” in Modern English becoming “ore” in the earlier version, and
the combination of the two changes together produces a coming together of
the two words and therefore a perfect pun. There’s something about working our
way back to Shakespeare, rather than dragging them into the 21st century, when
you’re standing on The Globe stage, they always light the theatre as if it’s daylight
because Shakespeare’s plays would have been performed at about two o’clock in the afternoon and that means that you can make direct eye contact with every
single member of the audience and then suddenly going to see a Shakespeare play becomes a two-way dynamic, a complicity. It means that as an
actor, as Hamlet I can come out and ask you, what should I do? Should I kill
Claudius, you know, I don’t know what to do, everything’s really confusing, help me!
You know, that’s what Shakespeare’s monologues were about. So, if you can sort of imagine that there’s that extra dimension when you’re working in a space like this, you get a similar sort of extra dimension when you use
Shakespeare’s accent.

100 thoughts on “Shakespeare: Original pronunciation (The Open University)”

  1. As an American listening with a Yankee's ear, the OP seems no odder than listening to a Scot or someone from the English North Country; think All Creatures Great and Small and the like.

  2. Ben's voice just … makes me swoon … or something.
    This was fascinating. Up to now, Shakespeare hasn't really interested me all that much. I found some of the expressions and the writing to be difficult to understand, and it just seemed uninteresting. If I could hear an OP production of something of his, I would strongly consider going. If nothing else, it's a way to be enthralled by the language changes since his time.

  3. Fascinating and quite wonderful. Forgive my American ignorance, but I'm curious as to how OP sounds somewhat similar to an Irish accent and how the modern English/British accents developed over time from that.

  4. As in originating French, we post-Elizabethan English speakers still do not pronounce the "h" in "hour" (nor "honor"), yet as in parent Anglo Saxon we still pronounce it in all other English words starting "h-."

    And the Elizabethan "ou" in "hour" retained the long-u pronunciation of the French-import dipthong "ou," as does modern Canadian but not US English, which latter rhymes it with the "ow" in "cow." Coupled with our pronunciation of the "or" in "whore" to rhyme with the "oo" in "door," we can miss Shakespeare's rhyme and pun of "hour" and "whore."

  5. for accuracy's sake, all of the actors need to be men. For accuracy's sake, I emphasize that (with the big deal our (women's) rights are today).

  6. To be truly authentic, you have to have boys playing the female roles. If I recall, women were never actors in Shakespeare's time.

  7. Ironic they took the time to use original and authentic period English pronunciation, yet used an actress of sub-Saharan African decent

  8. I'm not convinced. Putting on a slight "country" accent doesn't make it accurate. There's some evidence, but it's stretching a point to make these claims. If you listen to early recordings of spoken English from a century ago, they are very different to modern speech and "OP."

  9. I can understand written English back to late 17th century, maybe 16th. I can't even understand spoken English today in parts of Great Britain today.

  10. I recently had a discussion similar to this. I'm from the upper midwest of the U.S.A. (lower Michigan). As a trucker I've gotten around a lot and now live in east Texas. I maintain that, by and large, the upper midwestern accent is the most 'pure' in that pronunciations largely follow the actual spelling of words.

    In support of this, I point out that no matter where you go in the U.S., radio and television broadcasters all seem to speak largely in a neutral midwestern accent no matter where the person speaking is actually from. The same goes with music. I've noticed that when listening to music the artist's native accent almost always disappears. This is especially noticeable when listening to artists from the U.K. and artists who sing a song in English but don't actually speak it.

  11. I knew it was missing the Hard Rs … I just knew it. Every time I read it or even did it for drama class I knew it was missing something like a hard kinda Piratey early modern english.. hard R. Germans, Americans, Canadians kinda, Australians, Zealanders, Scottish, Welsh, Irish… they all have that HARD R. The current English from London they don't have that hard r anymore. It has to be dropped to get into RP or even MLE. Even Cockney still has that hard r. In the 1500s they had a hard R.

  12. David is a well spoken Scouser. Also interesting to hear "unclean" as "unclayan" which is how black Yorkshire comedian, Charlie Williams pronounced the word "clean" in his act when showing off his Barnsley accent. Still a lot of thee and thou in South Yorkshire to this day.

  13. Listening to this sounds a lot like listening to someone from Scotland, Ulster (north Ireland) or east coast of Canada like Newfoundland or Nova Scotia

  14. As an American the OP is easier to understand. The "R" is pronounced and the vowels sound similar to what we do. Oh, Ben's voice is like butter. Seriously.

  15. At least initially, I find OP more difficult to follow—not surprisingly, as it's unfamiliar. But it's also faster, and slurred. Perhaps listeners get used to it after a while.

    I wouldn't fancy being an actor having to perform the same play in two different accents. But then, I'm not an actor; maybe they enjoy it, for all I know.

  16. It always bothered me so much how, despite apparently being so great, Shakespeare’s plays never rhymed, and were seemingly never faithful to this iambic pentameter the teachers were always harping about, feels good to have my misgivings vindicated. Shakespeare’s plays belonged to their time, linguistically they don’t really work now.

  17. Ben's low and guttural voice when reciting the lines, while attractive, is not suitable for this kind of video because it makes it hard to actually hear what the accent sounds like.

  18. The voices of both those men when they put on the accent is so easy to listen to I could easily see them working for audio book company or other forms of narration, I need these dudes to voice act in video games 😭😂

  19. I have terrible, life affecting, problems with spelling. I was taught I.t.a as a child and have had numerous dyslexics test, to which I have passed all undertaken. The inability to spell correctly has devastated my life, my life is very different to how it could have been.

  20. This early modern English sounds like a blend of Scottish, Irish and American accents. I think the the letter A shifted to an O sound in recieved pronounciation, while staying relatively the same in American English. For example, the word 'war', which is pronounced similar to the word 'wore' in England.

  21. I grew up in Devon, so it’s all just very familiar to me. My parents are from Liverpool and London though, so my accent is just generic, southern and has been described as RP.

  22. It'd be interesting to hear a modern American English speaker trying to have a conversation with a OP English speaker.

  23. Should hear Shakespeare read by this guy I used to take a class with. I don’t remember where he was from but it went something like this.

    “Da bret no sooner leff he’s fatha’s bawdy but dat he’s wildness, mort’afied in’s hem, seems to die too’s.”

  24. So it took six phd's to figure out that it was Michael Caine and not Laurence Olivier doing Shakespeare correctly

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *