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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Shakespeare in OP

If you grew up in an English-speaking country, or you studied English at school, chances are good that you were exposed to William Shakespeare's sonnets, poems and plays.  The literary critic Harold Bloom called him the Center of the Western Canon.  "He sets the standards and limits of [English] literature."

The context in which I first encountered him is surely one that he would not have recognized:  a small Catholic school for girls in a convent halfway across the world from England in what was once called "Oregon Territory."  But I'm sure he would still have recognized his work as each young lady marched up to the front of the classroom to stand before Sister and recite (from memory) entire scenes taken from  The Taming of the Shrew, Macbeth, Othello, and Romeo and Juliet.

But would he have been puzzled by the pronunciation of many words and the accent?  The English language has changed a lot and traveled far since the 16th century.  Maybe not as much as we think:

"Eminent Shakespeare director Trevor Nunn claims that it might have sounded more like American English does today, suggesting that the language that migrated across the pond retained more Elizabethan characteristics than the one that stayed home."

There is a project at the reconstructed Globe theater in London to recapture the original pronunciation (OP) that was in use when these plays were performed 300 years ago.  This video is about that project which tries to find out "what Shakespeare sounded like to Shakespeare."  The linguist David Crystal talks about how think they can know what Early Modern English sounded like.  He and his son, an actor, then demonstrate the difference between what you would might have heard back in 1599 and what you hear today.  

Fascinating.  It's very short  - just 10 minutes -  and you can drink your coffee (and avoid starting your work day) all at the same time.  Enjoy.

And be sure to read the Open Culture post about it
What Shakespeare Sounded Like to Shakespeare: Reconstructing the Bard’s Original Pronunciation
for more examples, explanations, and some interesting comments.


kirkmc said...

Great timing: I'm interviewing Ben Crystal later today to discuss this. If you like Shakespeare, you might want to check out what I've been writing about him lately:

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Sweet serendipity strikes again. :-)

Will the interview be published? Please send along a link. I'd love to hear more.