I’m trying to read Shakespeare’s works in the (generally) agreed upon order in which they were written. That means there’s a lot of histories up front. Right now, I’ve finished the Henry VI trilogy and am moving on to Richard III.
And, really, the only thing clear to me is Shakespeare’s historical presentations are quite questionable. There weren’t any archaeologists or disciplined historians back in the day. Most of the base material he used to produce these works are biased at the very least.
So, I find it ironic that English majors, historians, and armchair quarterbacks use such rigorous focus when studying the Bard.
For example, there have been several productions of Shakespeare’s plays in the past few years who have gone to a lot of trouble to recreate the original pronunciation of Shakespeare’s time period. Below, you’ll find a video featuring David Crystal, Honorary Professor of Linguistics at the University of Wales, presenting the methodology behind figuring out Shakespeare’s language.
But the real question is why do we even care about Shakespeare’s original pronunciation?
A couple different reasons off the top of my head:
1. Meaning. As Crystal points out in the video, the original pronunciation alters the meaning of the words themselves — you can see changes in jokes/puns. This is a real-life exploration of the evolution of language. And evolution of meaning affects:
2. History. It’s also pointed out in the video that Shakespeare’s language/dialect was the language/dialect of the first colonists of the United States. While the presenters of the video are focused exclusively on Shakespeare, it’s just a natural leap to assume the language (and possible meaning alterations) transfers to historical documents.
And that doesn’t even come close to the several ways of understanding the plays themselves, which these gentlemen do a much better job of explaining:
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