The Oxford Dictionary of Original Shakespearean Pronunciation by David Crystal

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The Oxford Dictionary of Original Shakespearean Pronunciation by David Crystal

Category: Reference
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: Even the most avid fan of Shakespeare is likely to find this book a little dry: it's aimed at producers, directors and actors intending to present Shakespeare's plays and poetry in the original pronunciation. For those people the book is gold dust.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 704 Date: March 2016
Publisher: OUP
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0199668427

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Language changes, not only in the way that it's written, but also in the way that it's pronounced. I've seen changes over my lifetime and even more substantial changes have occurred in the four hundred years since Shakespeare died. For someone watching or reading a play the differences are not usually material: we can generally understand what is being said, but occasionally we're going to miss jokes which rely on a certain pronunciation, or the fine nuances of what is being said. What's required is a dictionary of the original pronunciation and that's exactly what David Crystal has provided. I'm only surprised that it's taken so long for such a book to appear.

Though - having said that - the book has obviously been a labour of love. It's been ten years in the writing and was triggered by Shakespeare's Globe's initiative to present the plays in their original pronunciation. Obviously there would be many more such projects and the investment of the author's time would be worthwhile. Crystal has been completely fair too - there is no definitive record of the original pronunciation - and he has included the evidence to support his reasoning. I had to smile at the thought that work on pronunciations from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries could have been made simpler if more sophisticated computer software had been available in the twenty-first century.

The dictionary contains all the words in the First Folio, transcribed using the International Phonetic Alphabet and there's an accompanying website to host sound files as a further aid to the correct pronunciation. You might wonder if using the original pronunciation would actually make Shakespeare less accessible to the layman, but most consonants and almost half the vowels have not changed noticeably and the stress on most words is unchanged: the listener quickly tunes into the language and actors equally feel happy with what they are doing. For me the experience was akin to reading Chaucer: initially it's daunting but then comes to seem completely natural.

I found the dictionary easier to use than I expected, but this was helped by the extensive introduction. Don't be tempted to skip this as it's rich in explanation and advice. To try out the dictionary I invested some time on some of my favourite speeches from Julius Caesar: the changes were subtle, but rewarding.

Although the book is aimed as those wishing to produce the works of Shakespeare, the language used is the same as that used by other Elizabethan and Jacobean writers and the King James Bible. The book is also going to be particularly useful to anyone running a heritage centre who is aiming for authenticity of pronunciation. Crystal has looked to capture the state of our language at the time when Shakespeare was writing and whilst it's impossible to say that he has it as it was it seems probable that he has achieved something quite remarkable. I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

For a less scholarly approach to the Bard, we can recommend Shakespeare on Toast by Ben Crystal, Nine Lives of William Shakespeare by Graham Holderness, The Shakespeare Handbook by Michael Schmidt and Robert Maslen, The Cambridge Shakespeare Guide by Emma Smith, Oxford Illustrated Shakespeare Dictionary by David and Ben Crystal and Shakespeare and the Stuff of Life: Treasures from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust by Delia Garratt and Tara Hamling (editors).

Online Audio Platform

I've just had the most tremendous fun with the online platform for The Oxford Dictionary of Original Shakespearean Pronunciation. Just log in and you have access to a male voice speaking the words in the dictionary. Where there are different pronunciations available, they follow the same order as in the dictionary. The spoken words are clear and you can repeat them as often as you wish until you're happy with your own pronunciation.

I would have liked a simpler search function - the ability to enter a word and to be taken directly to a page which showed the pronunciation - but with a little practice I found that I could enter the first few letters of a word and be taken to a page on which I would find it. Equally, if you're working from the printed version of the dictionary you can search by page number, which probably makes my search idea redundant. Familiarity does improve the ease with which you find words.

Any Shakespearean production which aims for authenticity would do well to invest in a copy of this book. I was surprised by how different even well-known speeches could sound with the authentic pronunciation. 'Caesar', for instance, is commonly pronounced sees 'er and sounds quite different when emphasis is placed on the second 'a'. Similarly I'm used to the 'i' in Portia being silent and the name is quite different when it's given voice - 'Porsia'.

You can access the online edition in several ways; through your institutional or public libraries, logging in at home/in the office using your library card number, if the library has licensed the title as part of their Oxford Reference package, if a university has subscribed to Oxford Reference with this title in their package, etc. More information about logging in, subscribing, and registering can also be found here.

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Buy The Oxford Dictionary of Original Shakespearean Pronunciation by David Crystal at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Oxford Dictionary of Original Shakespearean Pronunciation by David Crystal at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Oxford Dictionary of Original Shakespearean Pronunciation by David Crystal at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Oxford Dictionary of Original Shakespearean Pronunciation by David Crystal at Amazon.com.


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