The Real Sound of Shakespeare

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

London’s Globe theatre plans to present Troilus and Cressida in authentic Elizabethan English, the real sound of Shakespeare:

By opening night, they will have rehearsed using phonetic scripts for two months and, hopefully, will render the play just as its author intended. They say their accents are somewhere between Australian, Cornish, Irish and Scottish, with a dash of Yorkshire — yet bizarrely, completely intelligible if you happen to come from North Carolina.

For example, the word “voice” is pronounced the same as “vice”, “reason” as “raisin”, “room” as “Rome”, “one” as “own” — breathing new life into Shakespeare’s rhyming and punning.
The actors have been coached by David Crystal, one of the world’s most prominent language experts. He prepared the phonetic script by meticulously researching the rhymes, meter and spellings within Shakespeare’s plays and believes the dialect to be “about 80% accurate”.

“There are three important sources of evidence for this,” he says. “The first is the sound of the puns and jokes, the second is the spellings in the original texts. The third and most important piece of evidence is that, at the time there was a group of phoneticians who actually wrote in great detail about how the sounds of English were pronounced.”

The 17th century writer and dramatist Ben Johnson, for example, says the letter “r” was pronounced with a growl. “He tells us there’s a doggy sound — think ‘grrrr’,” Mr Crystal says.

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