Listening to Shakespeare as he really sounded
I sent for the CD I wrote about in a previous post on this subject and have just listened to it.
Before listening I read the accompanying booklet and I’m glad I did (usually I listen first and then find out what I should have known after). It explains what evidence the OP (Original Pronunciation) is based on and describes some possible regional variations of Shakespeare’s time. It also gives pointers as to what to listen for.
To me the accent sounded vaguely Midlandish – not surprising since that was where Shakespeare came from. However, as the booklet’s author (Ben Crystal) points out, it is not exactly like any modern speech.
The disk contains twenty eight tracks from the sonnets and plays, well chosen to cover a range of mood and speaker, and beautifully performed.
A few things surprised me. First was how quickly I adapted to OP. A couple of tracks and it stopped sounding strange. If I ever see a whole play, by the end of the first act I probably won’t notice. Second was that, to my ear anyway, there was no difference between the kings and aristocrats and their servants and followers. Third there were no words I couldn’t understand – I had expected a few instances of ‘what’s that word?’.
I also noticed for the first time how many words in English end in –ion. This was the only feature that leapt out at me for several tracks, as the ending of words like possession, consummation etc were pronounced really differently. After a while I stopped noticing until we got to the extract from Julius Caesar. Antony’s talk with the plebeians contains many repetitions of the word ‘ambition’ and they poked out of the surrounding speech with a strength and force I’d not noted before. Is this an effect Shakespeare intended? or is it the result of my modern ear?
I can’t say this disk made me reassess any of the plays or sonnets. I have found that any short extract from them, well recorded, can give me that ‘now I really understand that’ thrill. But it is an enjoyable disk and an interesting experience. I look forward to the OP movement spreading and giving us more performances.
For a taster of the disk you can go to The Telegraph review and listen to a snippet of Romeo and Juliet.
The disk is available from the British Library shop.