When we start rehearsing a Shakespeare play, we inevitably end up discussing how the actors should sound. Should we be speaking with English accents? Should the character’s accents match their locale? (e.g. Does Petruchio speak in an Italian accent) or do we make the play “more accessible” and speak the language in more or less a North American dialect? These can all be valid and effective choices depending on the direction of the show.
But have you ever wondered how Shakespeare sounded to the original audience? Wonder no more! Now you can hear for yourself what Hamlet meant by speaking “trippingly on the tongue.”
The British Library embarked on a project to decode the exact accent of Shakespeare’s day and have released their findings as a CD. Most of the clues were found within Shakespeare’s text itself, particularly the rhyming couplets.
NPRs story is a very concise introduction to the approach used to decode the accent and also includes some excerpts from the CD. You can hear it online here.
If you want more information about the project, check out The British Library’s website here.