David Crystal and his son Ben, an actor who studied linguistics in college, discuss how Shakespeare works in original pronunciation in this ten-minute video, which I found very enlightening (I wouldn’t have guessed that “from hour to hour” was pronounced the same as, and intended to suggest, “from whore to whore”). I found it at David Beaver’s Log post, where the comment thread includes at least one of the usual suspects who, never having considered the issue before and knowing nothing about it, nevertheless feel free to come up with some invented problem off the top of their head and then complain that “There is however no hint that this was respected in the reconstruction.” Ah, internet! Ah, humanity!


  1. I happened upon this video last night purely by accident and it is really nice to watch and listen to David Crystal and his son in the reconstructed Globe Theatre. Being an actor, the son has a unique perspective on the subject, not just about pronunciation but on how the actor feels, moves and relates to the audience in this setting.

  2. Trond Engen says

    I’m thinking that the Crystals ought to meet the Torps, Norwegian professor of linguistics Arne Torp and his daughter Ane Dahl Torp. They once did a TV skit together, but I can’t find it anywhere.
    (I’m pretty sure I’ve linked to Torp the elder’s homepage before, for the clips where he reads Atlakviða in both Old Runic and Old Norse.)

  3. I really like the video, but I do find it puzzling to hear the rhyme prove/love pronounced with the short unrounded vowel (Crystal explains on his Pronouncing Shakespeare site that [ɤ] is the IPA vowel). I remembered dimly, from reading Jespersen many years ago, that prove, like move, retained its long vowel to our days, and was [pru:v] in Shakespeare’s time, and it is “love” that was pronounced [lu:v] to rhyme with it. Doubtlessly Crystal, whose works I admire, has forgotten more about EME pronunciation than I ever knew, and this is by no means an attempt to slight him, but I’d love to better understand the evidence behind his [prɤv] and in fact behind choosing an unrounded vowel for all these words.

  4. > feel free to come up with some invented problem
    I think that’s a slightly harsh critique of the commentary. While I don’t think OP is outright fake, I do think it’s a reconstruction put through a strong filter of modern comprehensibility. The evidence from the British Library Survey of English Dialects is that dialects of as little as a century ago can be majorly incomprehensible to modern speakers. Turning English into Mummerset with a few odd pronunciations (e.g. “invention” -> “inven-see-onn”) doesn’t really address how different historical dialect/accent was likely to be.

  5. Fair enough, but I still think the idea that Crystal wouldn’t have thought of the dialect problem is absurd. It’s a constant problem on the internet, guys (it always seems to be guys) taking a quick gander at some issue that somebody else has spent their professional life on and saying “Hey, you don’t seem to have thought of this…” (with “you moron” expressed or implied).

  6. Also, regardless of the dialect situation in England at the time, I assume that a common “stage dialect” would have been in use, as is so often the case (cf. Germany). You want to appeal to, and be comprehensible to, everybody, not just your Kentish friends.

  7. I do think it’s a reconstruction put through a strong filter of modern comprehensibility.
    I think that’s a fair description, and bear in mind that the Crystals are not approaching this purely as an academic problem, but are themselves trying to invent (though maybe they would balk at that word) a historically informed “stage dialect” for use in modern-day performance of the plays. As in performing early music, one needs to take account of all the historical evidence, but beyond that, a good imagination – and awareness of your audience – is de rigueur.
    Not that there aren’t things in their reconstruction you could quibble with. I had a lengthy post about it on my blog some time back.

  8. Sorry, the link doesn’t work. Not sure what I did wrong.

  9. Yesterday I wrote a comment supporting LH’s view, and similar to Alan Shaw’s comment except I used costume instead of music. When I hit “preview”, and then tried “post”, there was a message saying I was not allowed to comment! I saved the text as a Word document in order to try again later but am now unable to retrieve it. Anyway, I join LH and AS in pointing out that the practical demands and constraints of actually staging and performing an older play preclude total historical truthfulness. Perhaps “truthiness” is the best one can hope in the circumstances.

  10. I’m sure things have improved in sixty years, but Helge Kökeritz did make a point of the hourwhore thing in his Shakespeare’s Pronunciation. And, now that I dig it out and check the footnotes, more extensively in a monograph ten years before that. Searching around JSTOR, apparently Joseph Papp’s 73 production had a young Frederick Coffin as Jaques saying it to sound like whore. (That same production had an even younger Meat Loaf as Amiens.)
    Kökeritz thought loveprove might be an eye rhyme, but points out that it’s hard to ignore that Ben Jonson said that brother, love and prove had the same vowel.

  11. Sorry, the link doesn’t work. Not sure what I did wrong.
    I don’t know either, but there was no URL in your comment in the edit box, so I searched your blog and added what seemed like the appropriate one. Let me know if it’s not.

  12. Hat: that’s it. Thanks!

  13. This is the latest thread I could find with a comment by Ray Girvan, whose contributions I always appreciated; I am saddened to learn (from this memorial post at StrangeHistory, with a nice photo) that he died June 30, 2015:

    He was 59 (a victim of these speedbumps that hit 15-20% of us in late middle age), witty, knowledgeable, and had, of course, never smoked, something that tempts me to kick my Bible around the room a bit. Ray not only ran a site of his own, Journal of a Southern Bookreader. He had also, in the last years, and while ill, written a book on the nineteenth-century author Maxwell Gray (now free on creative commons and a model for a project I hope to undertake). And he wrote occasional pieces for the Devon Historical Society, where he was, for many years, webmaster. (I actually corresponded with Ray on the second site before realizing that it was ‘my’ Ray, I was writing to: I got quite the shock). Ray both gave excellent contributions to StrangeHistory through his comments (and some really good reading tips) and also gave me very great help in two of my academic articles, which when they (finally) come out I’ll pass on to his widow Clare. Just to give a sense of Ray’s range his advice for these published pieces covered the effect of shots of tequila on the perception of space; and documentation on a nineteenth-century Prussian soldier in London.

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