Sunday

Arr, Shakespeare Sounded Like A Pirate

William Shakespeare is a name that has reverberated for centuries throughout the English-speaking world, and yet there are still a few mysteries surrounding him - perhaps not surprisingly since he lived hundreds of years ago (he died in 1616).

Some still wonder if the plays attributed to him were actually written by him, or by others like Francis Bacon or Christopher Marlowe. Another puzzle that probably does not occur to most of us is what did English sound like at the time of Shakespeare?

It's not something just asked out of curiosity (although it is interesting), but it affects the way the language "works" within the spoken plays. Shakespeare used particular rhythms and cadences, and things like puns and homonyms in his writing that sometimes don't quite work in modern English.

Although classic actors like Sir John Gielgud, Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Laurence Olivier sound great when delivering Shakespeare's lines, they are using "correct" English, the so-called "Received Pronunciation" (the way all the BBC announcers used to sound in the 1950's). But did Shakespeare sound like that? Nope, not even close.

While we can't time-travel back to the late 1500's to visit a live performance, linguists and other academics have a pretty good idea of what those presentations might have sounded like - and it's kind of surprising. 



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