Shakespeare: Original pronunciation (The Open University)

Shakespeare: Original pronunciation (The Open University)

The Globe Theatre which opened in 1994,
very near to its former site, specializes in original productions of Shakespeare.
But it wasn’t until 2004, that a play was performed in the original pronunciation,
known as OP. The play was Romeo and Juliet. Well the globe is known for its original practices, this is why it is here, to try and recreate the theatre as it was in 1600 and thereabouts. And when they started it off they decided to do original costume, original music with original instruments, original movement around the stage and so on. But they never did original pronunciation because they thought, quite wrongly, but
understandably, they thought nobody would understand it. It was a very very
successful occasion, the seats were packed for that weekend. Everybody loved
it and it was such a success that The Globe then decided to do a second
production the following year, production of Troilus and Cressida. It transports
you back through the centuries. It’s a very magical, almost hair-raising
experience, especially in this space to hear that accent of space that’s that’s
sort of as close as we can get to a 400 -year-old theatre. And then an accent that’s as close as we can get to a 400-year-old accent with a 400-year-old play. It if anything it rounds the experience of going to see a Shakespeare play out. Any period in the history of the English language can be studied from the point of view of how it was pronounced at the time, Old English, Chaucer and so on. In relation to Shakespeare, we’re talking about the sound system or phonology that was in use in a period called Early Modern English, and in the period specifically round about the year 1600. Now, it’s a period during which
pronunciation was changing very very rapidly, so there isn’t just one kind of
OP, there’s an OP that that evolves throughout the period. For example, early
on in the period, people were pronouncing the word musician, as musician, musician. Later in the period it had evolved into musician, and of course, later still, it became musician. David Crystal and his son Ben regularly
work together, to demonstrate how original pronunciation differs from
modern pronunciation. It’s an interesting accent to tune your ear into, so we’re
going to run through a few pieces of Shakespeare, first in a modern sort of
received pronunciation accent, the accent that you used to hear in Shakespearean.
And then we’ll switch into original pronunciation, and probably, Dad will do
some and I’ll do some as well so you get to hear it in a different voice. Their
first example comes from Henry V, then gives the modern pronunciation and
David the OP. “Oh. for a muse of fire that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention!” “Oh for a muse of fire that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention!” “A kingdom for a stage, princes to act, and monarchs to behold the swelling scene!” “A kingdom for a stage, princes to act, and monarchs to behold the swelling scene!” “Then should the warlike Harry, like himself, Assume the port of Mars.” “Then should the warlike Harry, like himself, Assume the port of Mars.” “… and at his heels, Leashed in like hounds, should famine, sword, and fire Crouch for employment.” “… and at his heels, Leashed in like hounds, should famine, sword, and fire Crouch for employment.” How do you know that that was original pronunciation? Well there are three kinds of evidence that you look for when you’re working out the pronunciation of a stage in the history of the language. The first and
the most important piece of evidence is the observations made by people who are writing on the language at the time. There were several people who actually commented on how words sounded, which words rhymed, and so on. For example, how do we know that the ‘r’ is pronounced at such a time? Well, Ben
Jonson, the dramatist, actually tells us at one point. He says we pronounce the ‘r’
after a vowel, he actually calls it a doggy sound, ‘Gurr’, or something like that. And so that kind of evidence, when you look at all the sounds, all the vowels, all the consonants, you put it together and that’s the first kind. the second kind of evidence is the spellings that people use at the time. The spellings were a much better guide to
pronunciation then than spelling is today. So at one point in Romeo and
Juliet the word ‘film’ is spelt ‘philome’ therefore ‘fil-um’ and that’s a very
important indication. With the third kind of evidence, which is absolutely critical
from a dramatic point of view, is that there are rhymes and puns, which don’t
work in Modern English that do work in OP. One I remember that we did at The Globe here was the pun that suddenly leaped out at us in the prologue to Romeo and
Juliet. You do that one? Right so, “Two households, both alike in dignity, In
fair Verona, where we lay our scene, From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean. From forth the fatal loins of these two
foes a pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life; Whose misadventured piteous
overthrows do with their death bury their parents’ strife.” And it’s the “loins'”…”from forth the fatal loins”. Now the thing is “loins” was pronounced
“loins” and the word “lines” was pronounced “loins”, so there is a pun on “loins” and “lines”. Genealogical lines on the one hand and
physical loins on the other, which is completely missed if you do it in in
Modern English, it’s a good example. David and Ben have also discovered that nearly two thirds of Shakespeare’s sonnets have rhymes that don’t work in Modern English,
that do work in OP. Give us a good one go on, one one six? I think, you
know, one one six is interesting because lots of people have it at their
weddings and they think of it as being a very sort of you know highfalutin sonnet…
“Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments…” but it completely
changes in OP, particularly because of the rhymes. “Love’s not time’s
fool, though rosy lips and cheeks within his bending sickle’s compass come; love
alters not with his brief hours and weeks, but bears it out even to the edge of doom. If this be error and upon me prov’d, I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d. Yeah,
“prov’d” and “lov’d”… I mean it’s a lovely ending isn’t it? “Prov’d” and “lov’d”
it doesn’t work. It completely falters it… “If this be error and upon me prov’d, I
never writ nor no man ever lov’d”. That’s right, doesn’t quite work. When Romeo and Juliet was performed at The Globe, David and Ben were advisers on the production. One of the most interesting things was the way in which the actors all said
that the OP altered their performance quite fundamentally. You have to remember the the play was being done in two versions that year. There was a modern
English version and an OP version as well. The actors had to learn the thing
twice, and it just changed the way they perceive their characters, didn’t it, Ben? It
did, well I mean it’s a lot faster the accent you know, with modern
Shakespeare it’s often very reverential in the way we pronounce it, you
know it’s, “assume the port of Mars”, it’s much faster in OP, it’s, “assume the port
of Mars.” The OP Romeo and Juliet was ten minutes faster, but it does something else to you as well, to me, it drops my voice,
I use my bottom register a lot more, you know, that “assume the port of Mars”, it
makes me sort of hunker down, doesn’t sort of seem so cut off from the neck,
you know, “Oh, for a muse of fire” and it connects with the body a bit more for
some reason. It’s an earthier accent. The experience of Romeo and Juliet also
demonstrated, that far from making Shakespeare more difficult to understand,
it can actually make the original meaning clearer, as can be seen in this extract from ‘As You Like It’. “And so from hour to hour we ripe and ripe. And then from hour to hour we rot and rot and thereby hangs a tale.” It’s really, really rude sex joke he’s talking about prostitutes and you know the King’s evil and all that kind of thing. It’s completely missed when you do it in a modern accent. The last time I saw ‘As You Like It’ the actor came to the front and said “And so from hour to hour we ripe and ripe, and from hour to hour we rot and rot and thereby hangs a tale, anyway…” You know, the gag is completely missed.
What we see is a joke working that doesn’t work in Modern English, and it’s all based on one very simple sound shift. The pronunciation of
“whore” as “ore” you’ll notice two things about it the ‘h’ drops at the beginning, ‘h’
often dropped in early Modern English in that way, and you get this
other change “our” in Modern English becoming “ore” in the earlier version, and
the combination of the two changes together produces a coming together of
the two words and therefore a perfect pun. There’s something about working our
way back to Shakespeare, rather than dragging them into the 21st century, when
you’re standing on The Globe stage, they always light the theatre as if it’s daylight
because Shakespeare’s plays would have been performed at about two o’clock in the afternoon and that means that you can make direct eye contact with every
single member of the audience and then suddenly going to see a Shakespeare play becomes a two-way dynamic, a complicity. It means that as an
actor, as Hamlet I can come out and ask you, what should I do? Should I kill
Claudius, you know, I don’t know what to do, everything’s really confusing, help me!
You know, that’s what Shakespeare’s monologues were about. So, if you can sort of imagine that there’s that extra dimension when you’re working in a space like this, you get a similar sort of extra dimension when you use
Shakespeare’s accent.


  • Big Solid Boss says:

    sounds like some strange accent in game of thrones

  • publius ovidius says:

    If they take the major step of using OP, why not go all the way and have boys play the female parts?

  • Micah Philson says:

    So… you're saying Hot Fuzz is actually a Shakespearean performance?!

    Now I need to hear Frank Butterman reading a sonnet!

  • shawn stipe says:

    Is it me or are younger generations of Brits starting to sound like Americans? Ben Crystal sounds more American to my ears. I've noticed it with a lot of british young people.

  • Sid Huhndorf says:

    So this original pronunciation seems to have essentially made it easier to produce puns; thereby making it easier for Shakespeare to have risen as a famous play write. It seems this original pronunciation has pulled back the veil to reveal that Shakespeare's talent may not have been so extraordinary after all. Potentially no better than most modern play writers.

  • Quikdeth says:

    Rot and rot = rut and rut

  • Brian Cherry says:

    It sounds… Irish.

    On another note – I find it strange that he would make written puns. Wouldnt the viewers just assume he meant Whores?

  • Khardellen says:

    I listed to Ben talk and now I’m pregnant 🙊

  • clancydowrca says:

    When David did the first OP it reminded me of Robin Hood Prince Of Thieves. They all sounded like that (excluding Kevin Costner!)

  • drxym says:

    Shakespeare as performed by wurzels.

  • Jeffrey Robinson says:

    To an American country boy living in the ozarks the accent and rhythm puts me in mind of a poor imitation of a Scottish accent

  • Oulipo LeSceptique says:

    I had no idea that David Crystal would be narrating this video with his son. Having read pretty much every book that the father has written about language, but never having heard him talk, I was immensely pleased to find this video, and to find that his son is as much given to the study of language as his father.

  • Matthew Lebo says:

    Sounds surprisingly Irish.

  • Dealific says:

    Didn't know Shakespeare was a comedy writer, he must roll in his grave everytime he hears a modern delivery 👍

  • Daniel Liddicoat says:

    I watched King Leer at The Globe. I enjoyed it, but I wish I had brought a cushion.

  • Ratchet4647 says:

    I don't get what was so raunchy about that phrase and how modern pronunciation changes that.

  • ILike2PlayBass says:

    Dr who fans =p

  • iconoclast says:

    Seems to me that anyone with more than 50 comment likes must be using a YouTube comments bot. Shameful how one's idea of one's personal worth is tied up with popularity of his (it's usually males) vapid one-sentence turds.

  • Cis White Dad says:

    I didn't know I needed to know about this until it popped up in my recommendations.

  • Keith Cooper says:

    What a great video!

  • Heather Elroy says:

    Ginger Man has a lovely deep voice, but for the life of me I can't understand what he's saying regardless of whether it's in modern pronunciation or OP. His voice is just so low all I hear is gravel.

  • ajuk1 says:

    Blackadder got this right with the old crown saying "that it be" in the West Country accent.

  • Gingeries17 says:

    Pirate theatre.

  • Peter Stawicki says:

    This is amazing!! Id love to hear so much more in OP!!

  • J0hNF_UK says:

    So, Shakespearean English was talking like The Wurzels with a bit of Jack Hawkins thrown in?

  • I, Claudius says:

    We need to move back to old english, if nothing else, just so the spelling can make sense again.

  • I. M. Notamoose says:

    Original practices? No it is not!!! There were few if any women in the English theater at that time, unlike in France.

  • Jemiah DaPap says:

    5:07 what? Lose that reverberating larynx. George Clooney does it all the time. Only George Clooney movie where he talks normally is the Descendants.

  • Nothing Controversial says:

    I'm down wid O P! 😎

  • A.J. Kaufman says:

    About 50 years ago, I heard that the closest then current dialect to Elizabethan English was that spoken on Tangier Island Virginia. I had occasion to visit Tangier Island in the 1990s and it did sound similar to this video.

  • akr01364 says:

    So, basically, guys from Warwickshire? lol

  • Toby Wood says:

    Just get some farmers to read it.

  • Rainblaze says:

    AAAARRRRRRR my eye be one, an one leg-ed i be. A pirate from the seas. arose to be here where is now. And now to part again i take my leave. set to sail to look on all my good eye seas

  • dasgutz37 says:

    The opening lines of 'Anarchy in the UK' are evidence in support of this argument also

  • Timothy Sielbeck says:

    I think I would prefer the OP versions much more than the modern ones.

  • Jeremy Farley says:

    Is it just me, or does the OP sound a lot like Scottish ?

  • Young Byun says:

    And this is how we realise all the essays we wrote about rhymes and their literary effects in Shakespeare's plays for GSCE English were bollocks – it sounded different

  • Hannah Rosenberg says:

    But they still used black actresses?

  • Dana Meise says:

    Eminem figured out how to do it…

  • Thomas Dragt says:

    I'm sure I'm not the first in the over 3,600 plus comments that if they were really doing Skakespeare in the original they would be no women on stage

  • Rigsby 1 says:

    This is great

  • Max Cuthbert says:

    Why would anyone ever downvote this ? Not enough car chases ?

  • rshaddock says:

    5:00 Juliet should be WHITE!

  • Byron Welichko says:


  • scratch says:

    It would be better in the original klingon.

  • Surya Khanna says:

    OP sounds a lot more like modern Irish in some ways than RP

  • J.A. Brown says:

    This is the same accent that is used a lot in Game of Thrones, right?

  • None Ya says:

    I wonder if this is where the Newfoundland accent comes from

  • Mick Kennedy says:

    Imagine Shakespeare in Cockney………….gaAaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!

  • Problembeing says:

    That young man can growl in that accent in my ear until his heart be content 😜

  • Mr Invader says:

    I absolutely love this this is absolutely amazing the hair is standing on the back of my neck! Completely mind-blowing! Truly truly makes Shakespeare all of that much better, and Shakespeare was already awesome!

  • Walrus Latte says:

    It sounds Jamaican a little.

  • iamthestig1 says:

    Sounds kinda like a West Country farmer-y sorta accent…

  • Sarah Nyb says:

    Sounds great

  • Jeroen Manders says:

    At about 4:15 the pronounciation of the R is being spoken of. It's being described as the growl of a dog, but the speaker then demonstrates something that still sounds like a typical English 'non-R', a frictionless vowel-like sound, and not like the ruffling, scraping or ratteling sounds that, quite frankly, ALL other languages that write the character bring forth when they pronounce it, and that would sound much more 'like a doggy'. Would the historical R not sound much more like that of other languages, like even Scottish and Irish…?

  • TheCrayonMaster says:

    Ben's voice is lovely

  • thegreatestsun says:

    I'm actually from the South West, and normally I get told I sound like a pirate. I've never been told I sound like a Shakespearean actor lmao

  • laughinggravy2 says:

    I think it's all down to the actors dialect ,Shakespeare would have adapted his script to suit their accent, take for instance British films of the 30s 40s and 50s especially during the war all RAF pilots had a very posh oxford Cambridge dialect, is wasn't scripted that way ,it was just the accents the actor of that period/time

  • Elfin Dreamer says:

    It sounds as if the Irish actually held onto an accent most like the original pronunciation, outside of England. Also, Ben's voice is sexy as hell.

  • blessedout says:

    Wow, that was so informative! The original pronunciation is utterly enchanting ❤️

  • orange42 says:

    I thought only guys were actors back then?

  • Howzer The man says:

    I understood to OP quite easily.

  • William Swan says:

    I find David and Ben Crystal's pronunciation of "Juliet" interesting; they both pronounce it in their normal modern accents the same as "Juliette". All Americans do the same, and it drives my mother up the wall. She insists that "Juliet" is to be pronounced "Joolyit", while "Juliette" is to be pronounced "Joolly-ett". From what I have just heard of OP, they were probably both pronounced the same way in OP: the second way. Notch one up for the Americans!

  • sherisha sewpersadh says:

    Ben Crystal should just read any book as an audio book and I'd buy it

  • Sample Dude says:

    3:00 Poor Julian Assange, they're having him read Shakespeare in jail.

  • Stormageddon101 says:

    In RP, Shakespeare sounds like a pompous douche bag who drinks wine with his pinky sticking out. In OP, he seems like a bloke you’d want to have a beer chugging competition with…

  • Jesse Edwards says:

    Mind. BLOWN!!

  • Ken Hymes says:

    He says something critical in the video that people seem to be glossing over… pronunciation and usage are constantly changing. There's no "original," just a fair amount of information about a snapshot of a time and place. People don't pronounce things the same in England now, why would that be any different then? I think what the Globe did is great. And this guy is carefully avoiding saying there's ONE OP. Lots of reasons to think that within plays, actors would adopt patterns of speech and pronunciation based on class and origin, the text certainly suggests it. I see a fair amount of stuff on youtube that tries to boil stuff down too much… the thing about history is that there will ALWAYS be more complexity, not less, as one has more data.

  • thriddoctor says:

    Sounds like west country accent.

  • The mighty Mr Ronson says:

    What a suprise everyone talked like cornish pirates

  • Scotty Oakes says:

    I could watch an entire TV show on this subject.

  • sailorbychoice1 says:

    As an American listening with a Yankee's ear, the OP seems no odder than listening to a Scot or someone from the English North Country; think All Creatures Great and Small and the like.

  • Adam Dean says:

    The OP is easier to understand for me to than the RP.

  • Neil Johnson says:

    I love the pride in the fathers eyes while watching his son perform. As a dad, this made me smile.

  • LostJedi26 says:

    Ben's voice just … makes me swoon … or something.
    This was fascinating. Up to now, Shakespeare hasn't really interested me all that much. I found some of the expressions and the writing to be difficult to understand, and it just seemed uninteresting. If I could hear an OP production of something of his, I would strongly consider going. If nothing else, it's a way to be enthralled by the language changes since his time.

  • Storm Meridian Dee The Broccoli Fox says:

    Fascinating and quite wonderful. Forgive my American ignorance, but I'm curious as to how OP sounds somewhat similar to an Irish accent and how the modern English/British accents developed over time from that.

  • alligator lover says:

    Does anyone else not get the jokes still

  • Alex Alerasoul says:

    So it sounds pretty much like a very, very thick west country accent. Basically Hagrid or Samwise Gamgee.


    next step: ban women from the stage

  • pullt says:

    How original can it be if Juliet isnt a boy?

  • Amanda Cuckhold says:

    A black actress? Is that historically accurate?

  • JudgeJulieLit says:

    As in originating French, we post-Elizabethan English speakers still do not pronounce the "h" in "hour" (nor "honor"), yet as in parent Anglo Saxon we still pronounce it in all other English words starting "h-."

    And the Elizabethan "ou" in "hour" retained the long-u pronunciation of the French-import dipthong "ou," as does modern Canadian but not US English, which latter rhymes it with the "ow" in "cow." Coupled with our pronunciation of the "or" in "whore" to rhyme with the "oo" in "door," we can miss Shakespeare's rhyme and pun of "hour" and "whore."

  • Bobby Boucher says:

    it's like classical latin vs. ecclesiastical latin

  • deleuje says:

    Here from Margaret Atwood's masterclass

  • Todd Sundell says:

    Once I heard a guy from Northumberland speak to me. It sounded kind of like this.

  • kindness as great as the sea says:

    We need OP productions please!

  • Gender Woman says:

    Hmm. I think more differences is between different American accents…

  • Helen Borodina says:

    for accuracy's sake, all of the actors need to be men. For accuracy's sake, I emphasize that (with the big deal our (women's) rights are today).

  • C B says:

    sounds like Hagrid

  • Oh Yeah Yeah says:

    if they try to do everything authentic why don’t they use guys dressed as girls

  • dougthealligator says:

    Sounds like a weird mix of a Scottish and an American accent

  • Mango T says:

    Now THATS acting.

  • davidf2281 says:

    Soooo, original pronunciation simply involves putting on a comedy Somerset accent. Fair enough.

  • Angel Santos says:

    I learned alot here and also this made me miss my Dad ❤️

  • Bruce Roberts says:

    The OP to me sounds almost similar to U.S. Southern English, that is with a bit of a drawl. Interessante.

  • Alex S says:

    To be truly authentic, you have to have boys playing the female roles. If I recall, women were never actors in Shakespeare's time.

  • gareth dunn says:

    so people in shakespeare's time spoke like a farmer from Somerset

  • Dakota Miles says:

    Ironic they took the time to use original and authentic period English pronunciation, yet used an actress of sub-Saharan African decent

  • Roy Cousins says:

    I'm not convinced. Putting on a slight "country" accent doesn't make it accurate. There's some evidence, but it's stretching a point to make these claims. If you listen to early recordings of spoken English from a century ago, they are very different to modern speech and "OP."

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