The archaeology of sound: “This reclaims Shakespeare for us”


Ever wonder why Shakespeare’s rhymes don’t rhyme? You know, love/prove, eyes/qualities. For couple of language scholars, these linguistic mismatches are the keys to unlocking an archaeology of sound.

Kansas University’s Paul Meier has been collaborating with Stratford’s David Crystal, one of the greatest living authorities on original pronunciation of Shakespeare’s English.  Together, they are making what is likely to be an unforgettable production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that will “wind the language clock back to 1595,” according to Meier.

How will it sound?

“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.

The audience will hear rough and surprisingly vernacular diction, they will hear echoes of Irish, New England and Cockney that survive to this day as ‘dialect fossils.’ And they will be delighted by how very understandable the language is, despite the intervening centuries.”

Actually, I think the performers sound more like the usual portrayals of, say, Audrey in As You Like It.

Passing through the Plains?  You’ll have a chance to see the show beginning November 11 at Kansas University.  It will be the first time in North America that a Shakespeare production is being performed entirely in the original pronunciation, and only the fourth time in the world.  Which is kind of cool.

(For those of you who think of Dorothy and Auntie Em when you think Kansas — Dana Gioia tells me the university, too, is kind of cool.)

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4 Responses to “The archaeology of sound: “This reclaims Shakespeare for us””

  1. Roseanne Sullivan Says:

    Interesting. How do they know? I mean the rhyme between eyes and qualities could just as easily have been “ees” and “qualities,” no? They’ve decided for “eyes’ and “qualit-eyes” for some reason. Hmm.

  2. Cynthia Haven Says:

    I guess they have other usages in other contexts for comparison. The O.P. on the video would seem to match some English vernaculars.

  3. Cynthia Haven Says:

    (And sorry for being so late in getting back to you, Roseanne.)

  4. Dave Lull Says:

    David Crystal posted links to material that he says provides, for Early Modern English, answers to “How do you know?”: