Shakespeare in Original Pronunciation

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Shakespeare in Original Pronunciation (OP) is a movement dedicated to the examination and subsequent performance of Shakespeare's works in a "phonology", or "sound system", of Early Modern English.[1]

Modern movement[edit]

In 2004, Shakespeare's Globe, in London, produced three performances of Romeo and Juliet in original pronunciation.[2] Spearheaded by linguist David Crystal and play director, Tim Carroll,[3] this was the beginning of contemporary interest in Shakespeare in original pronunciation.[4]

In 2005, the Globe went on to produce six performances of Troilus and Cressida in original pronunciation.[2] Since then, there have been many further productions of Shakespeare in original pronunciation, including A Midsummer Night's Dream in 2010 by the University of Kansas and Twelfth Night in 2012 by the American Theatre of Actors.[4]


Shakespeare's Early Modern English[5] was a time of great linguistic change for the English language.[6] One change that was then taking place was the Great Vowel Shift, which changed the pronunciation of long vowels.[6] Many words of Early Modern English were pronounced differently from today's standard pronunciation of Modern English.[6]

According to linguist David Crystal, Shakespeare in Original Pronunciation is "Shakespeare as hopefully he would have heard it.... It sounds raw and from the heart, which is very different from the way I think Shakespeare has been performed for the last half century or so."[7]

Also, audiences hearing Shakespeare in contemporary pronunciation often miss hearing rhymes and puns that worked well in Early Modern English.[8]

On the other hand, Laura Lodewyck, Assistant Professor of Theatre at North Central College,[9] comments that "there are limits to the OP enterprise. Some texts, for instance, may be better suited to OP performance than others."[4]



An example of a Shakespearean pun that no longer works in Modern English comes from the prologue of Romeo and Juliet, Act 1, lines 5-6:

From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life[10]

In Modern English, the word "lines" does not carry the double meaning of the Early Modern English, when both lines and loins were pronounced as "loynes."[8] Thus, Modern English audiences miss the pun.


An example of a Shakespearean rhyme that no longer works in Modern English comes from A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act 3, Scene II, lines 104-106:

Flower of this purple dye,

Hit with Cupid's archery,

Sink in apple of his eye.[11]

In Modern English pronunciation, the rhyme does not work in all lines, but in Original Pronunciation, all three lines rhyme.[8]


The audience reaction to Shakespeare in Original Pronunciation varies.

Laura Lodewyck cites a New York Times review of the 2005 production of Troilus and Cressida where the reviewer states: "Soaring Shakespearean lines, such as 'Her hand / In whose comparison all whites are ink,' evaporate like a cough in the theatre... the waves of words produce a mesmerizing static, sort of like listening to poetry underwater."[4]

Alternatively, David Crystal writes that audience members often connect to the performance through the pronunciation: "we speak like that where we come from."[12] However, as Lodewyck also notes, as a leading expert in this area of study, Crystal has reasons to be biased toward such productions.[4]

As well, Original Pronunciation can have an effect on the actors involved.

Ben Crystal, Shakespearean actor and son of David Crystal, comments on the way Shakespeare in original pronunciation affects his body and vocal register: "It drops your center.... With OP, it comes down towards your stomach and your groin. It changes the way you move. I go from speaking in a very, in a much sort of higher quality of my voice, and I get down more into the gravelly part of my resonance. It has tremendous ramifications, from male to female, old to young, anybody that I've seen use OP, the effect's the same."[8]

Although the beginning of the Globe's foray into Original Pronunciation showed that older actors had more difficulty in embracing it, successful performances eventually occurred.[2]


  1. ^ Crystal, David (2016). The Oxford Dictionary of Original Shakespearean Pronunciation. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press. pp. ix, xi.
  2. ^ a b c McCrum, Robert (2005-08-21). "RP or OP? That is the question". The Guardian. Retrieved 2018-10-02.
  3. ^ "David Crystal: "In Original Pronunciation, the plays become easier to understand." - Exeunt Magazine". Retrieved 2018-10-02.
  4. ^ a b c d e Lodewyck, Laura A. (2013-04-18). ""Look with Thine Ears:" Puns, Wordplay, and Original Pronunciation in Performance". Shakespeare Bulletin. 31 (1): 41–61. doi:10.1353/shb.2013.0017. ISSN 1931-1427.
  5. ^ Crystal, David (2016). The Oxford Dictionary of Original Shakespearean Pronunciation. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press. pp. ix.
  6. ^ a b c "The History of English - Early Modern English (c. 1500 - c. 1800)". Retrieved 2018-10-02.
  7. ^ "Shakespeare in the rough: Audio collection of Bard's words like you've never heard them before | The Toronto Star". Retrieved 2018-10-02.
  8. ^ a b c d alevine (2015-02-04). "Pronouncing English as Shakespeare Did". Folger Shakespeare Library. Retrieved 2018-10-02.
  9. ^ "Laura Lodewyck | North Central College". Retrieved 2018-10-03.
  10. ^ "No Fear Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet: Act 1 Prologue". Retrieved 2018-10-02.
  11. ^ "No Fear Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night's Dream: Act 3 Scene 2 Page 5". Retrieved 2018-10-02.
  12. ^ Crystal, David (2016). The Oxford Dictionary of Original Shakespearean Pronunciation. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press. pp. x.

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