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Roméo, Roméo

I really, really like the Original Pronunciation movement started by David and Ben Crystal. Through analysis and performance, they're trying to understand Shakespeare's plays as audiences 400 years ago would have understood them.

The Crystals are back in the news with the upcoming publication of the Oxford Dictionary of Original Shakespearean Pronunciation this June. The Atlantic has the story:

It’s a book, a guide to Shakespeare’s first folio, that Crystal has been working on for 12 years (on and off, because, as he notes, “it’s deadly boring” to put a dictionary together). That work involved, essentially, linguistic sleuthing: Crystal started by looking at the words that might have originally rhymed, based on rhyme schemes and the words’ current pronunciations, and then cross-referenced them against other appearances of those same words in Shakespeare’s corpus.

The resulting dictionary is meant, he explains, as a resource for anyone who wants to understand Shakespeare’s plays and poems not as amber-frozen relics of literary history, but as works that have evolved along with English itself. “I’m not suggesting for a moment that Original Pronunciation replaces other approaches to Shakespeare,” Crystal says. “It simply is an extra tool in the kit that you use when you’re putting on a play.”

And OP doesn’t simply add dimensions to Shakespeare’s work (or, for that matter, to Marlowe’s, and Jonson’s, and Webster’s). It can also help modern audiences simply to parse the plays, to tease out basic meanings that have been eroded in time. In Henry IV Part I, for example, Falstaff tells Hal, “Give you a reason on compulsion? If reasons were as plentiful as blackberries, I would give no man a reason upon compulsion.” The line would seem, Crystal points out, to make very little sense—unless you understand that “reason” was pronounced, in Shakespeare’s English, as “raisin,” and that “raisin” was a synonym for “blackberry.”

I have, of course, pre-ordered the book.

Here are the Crystals giving a demonstration:

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