Shakespeare in the Original Pronunciation
If you’re like me, you think of William Shakespeare’s plays as being rendered in an archaic but decidedly upper crust British English. It turns out that this is an artifact of modern theater.
Thanks to the work of Paul Meier, audiences can get a sense of what it might have been like to eavesdrop on opening night of “Hamlet” or “Romeo and Juliet” at the Globe Theater in London or to listen in on a shipboard conversation on the Mayflower as it approaches the shores of the New World.
“What did English sound like back then?” Meier said. “Was it posh or down to earth? Was it anything like today’s British or American English? Would we understand it?”
Meier is staging Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in November, and it will be the first time in North America that a Shakespeare production is being performed entirely in the original pronunciation.
“American audiences will hear an accent and style surprisingly like their own in its informality and strong r-colored vowels,” Meier said. “The original pronunciation performance strongly contrasts with the notions of precise and polished delivery created by John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier and their colleagues from the 20th century British theater.”
Here’s a snippet on video:
It’s still pretty hard to follow without the subtitles, forcing me to “translate” the speech rather than simply absorb it the way I do with most productions in modern English. But a fascinating and different take.
via Jason Kottke