The Original Pronunciation for Shakespeare’s Plays
Well isn’t this fascinating. Shakespeare’s plays were pronounced significantly differently when they were originally performed. And we miss some humor and rhyming because of it. It is more than possible—and this video argues that it is pretty well universal—that contemporary actors have solemnly intoned 16th century sex jokes to audiences who all nod sagely while, along with the actors themselves, totally missing the point.
Phonology is, for me, an almost entirely unexplored dimension of English language change. Boy, I don’t know if I have the energy to learn “OP” just in order to catch euphonies or assonances that the KJV translators employed that we today miss… The video—which I can’t believe no one has sent me before!—simply demonstrates one more dimension of language which has changed in the last 400 years in ways modern readers just cannot be expected to know without specialized training. I’m tired. Do I have to do it?
And now let me note for my own benefit, and maybe for yours, the three ways that the main linguist in this video says we use to reconstruct OP:
- We read what writers of the time said about the way their words were pronounced. People were prolix in print in those days, just as they are today. You pick up things.
- We look at spelling, which was far less fixed than it is today. If someone wrote film as philome, there’s a good chance it was a two-syllable word in that day.
- We look at rhymes and puns. If “we never can prove the delights of his love” (that, of course, is not Shakespeare, but a hymn only a century-plus old), there’s a good chance that one or both of those words was pronounced differently in a previous era.