Is this the original Shakespearean pronunciation?

When SC Shakespeare Company did “Pride and Prejudice” last year, we had a couple of diction coaches helping us with Received Pronunciation. Which was probably reasonably faithful to the way Austen’s characters would have spoken.

But when this company or any other wants to be true to the original productions of Shakespeare, how on Earth are they supposed to know how it should sound?

These guys say they know. And the folks who run The Globe apparently believe them. Whether they’re right or not, it’s an interesting piece.

Turns out that English accents sounded vaguely Scottish — or some other Gaelic variant. In any case, it doesn’t sound English to this modern ear.

I shot this while touring the new Globe in December 2010.

I shot this while touring the new Globe in December 2010.

8 thoughts on “Is this the original Shakespearean pronunciation?

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    I think speculation such as this is cool, but I have my doubts about it.

    The elder guy, the linguist, explains how they arrived at their conclusions about how these things were pronounced, and I find them a bit thin.

    OK, so Jonson said R was a “doggie sound,” like “Grrrr.” Meaning that it was rhotic. I’ll grant him that one. I also like the point that, before standardized spelling, the way words were spelled was more phonic. Seems reasonable (assuming you know how they pronounced those letters).

    But I’m thinking that even if there had been an Internet and a Google in 1600, and you could gather together every contemporaneous description of how things were pronounced, the picture would be highly incomplete. It just seems doubtful to me that, in a time when there weren’t doctorates in this sort of thing, when careers couldn’t be based on comparative pronunciations and the like, there just wasn’t much motivation for the small number of literate people to be explaining to future centuries exactly how they pronounced things.

    It’s a very interesting exercise, though…

  2. Mark Stewart

    What’s not guesswork is the cribbing around the stage stairs. That is wholly of the last three or four decades of our time. Four railings with an elevated cap! We have truly run amuck. Now I’m not saying that even though for thousands of years people didn’t have stair railings that their installation was not a positive development. But we have swung way too far. Might as well board it up completely; but then we would just feel the need to add handrails, starting the cycle up all over again.

    Funny to fixate on unknowable pronunciations when historical flaws stand like tower sentinels stage left and right at the Globe Theatre.

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