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Shakespeare in the original pronunciation

A professor from the University of Kansas has pieced together the original pronunciation of Shakespeare and is staging a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

“American audiences will hear an accent and style surprisingly like their own in its informality and strong r-colored vowels,” Meier said. “The original pronunciation performance strongly contrasts with the notions of precise and polished delivery created by John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier and their colleagues from the 20th century British theater.”

Meier said audiences will hear word play and rhymes that “haven’t worked for several hundred years (love/prove, eyes/qualities, etc.) magically restored, as Bottom, Puck and company wind the language clock back to 1595.”

“The audience will hear rough and surprisingly vernacular diction, they will hear echoes of Irish, New England and Cockney that survive to this day as ‘dialect fossils.’ And they will be delighted by how very understandable the language is, despite the intervening centuries.”

Because the KU production will be only the fourth in the world, preceded by the two Globe productions and a production of “Julius Caesar” by John Barton at Cambridge in the 1950s, audiences may wonder why there have been so few original pronunciation productions. Crystal said it’s not because competence on the nature of early modern English is lacking, but that so few of the linguists who can demonstrate it with authority also have theater interests and credentials.

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