Workshop > Plenaire Lezing

David Crystal

The tongue that Shakespeare spoke

When people talk about Shakespeare's language, they usually mean his vocabulary and grammar; but how did his words actually sound on the 16th-century stage? David Crystal describes the recent movement to perform his works in 'original pronunciation'.

Philologists have been interested in reconstructing the original pronunciation (OP) of Early Modern English since the mid-19th century, but the application of this approach in actual theatre productions is only a decade old. Shakespeare's Globe began the modern movement in 2004, with an OP production of Romeo and Juliet, and over a dozen Shakespeare plays have now been performed in OP around the world, with more coming in 2016. There have also been applications in other contexts, such as early music, and with other authors, such as John Donne. This talk demonstrates the accent from the plays and poems, explains the linguistic evidence for the reconstruction, highlights some of the new readings and interpretations that OP brings to light, and discusses why this approach has become so popular.