Nobody truly knows what Shakespeare’s accent sounded like. He wrote his plays nearly 500 years ago in English that is very different than it is spoken today. Just think how much your own language has changed in that time!
Of course, we have all his work written down, but what did it actually sound like back then? Nobody knows what latin really sounded like and the same goes for the sounds of Elizabethan English.
Experts have suggested that Shakespeare’s accent would have sounded something like Irish, Yorkshire and West Country accents mixed together. Also, they believe that words were spoken much more quickly than in contemporary Shakespeare productions.
So, don’t you want to hear a sample of Shakespeare’s accent (according to expert opinion)?
Watch this video from 42:00 to get the true flavour of what Shakespeare’s voice probably sounded like.
The British Library has also recorded famous bits from Shakespeare in what they believe to be early modern-English authentic accents – here’s a sample:
This is how Shakespearean accents are portrayed today. Most Shakespearean plays in the UK are spoken in received pronunciation accent.
SIDE NOTE: So many English students want to lose their accent and learn how to speak in the Queen’s English, meaning received pronunciation, but if Shakespeare himself didn’t even have this accent, why is it so important?
Here’s Gandalf… I mean Magneto.. I mean, Sir Ian McKellen (as a very young man) in a famous BBC production of Macbeth showing you how to do the Shakespeare RP accent perfectly… the script is below the video to help you understand.
Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.
Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
To feeling as to sight? or art thou but
A dagger of the mind, a false creation,
Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?
I see thee yet, in form as palpable
As this which now I draw.
Thou marshall’st me the way that I was going;
And such an instrument I was to use.
Mine eyes are made the fools o’ the other senses,
Or else worth all the rest; I see thee still,
And on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood,
Which was not so before. There’s no such thing:
It is the bloody business which informs
Thus to mine eyes. Now o’er the one halfworld
Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse
The curtain’d sleep; witchcraft celebrates
Pale Hecate’s offerings, and wither’d murder,
Alarum’d by his sentinel, the wolf,
Whose howl’s his watch, thus with his stealthy pace.
With Tarquin’s ravishing strides, towards his design
Moves like a ghost. Thou sure and firm-set earth,
Hear not my steps, which way they walk, for fear
Thy very stones prate of my whereabout,
And take the present horror from the time,
Which now suits with it. Whiles I threat, he lives:
Words to the heat of deeds too cold breath gives.
A bell rings.
I go, and it is done; the bell invites me.
Hear it not, Duncan; for it is a knell
That summons thee to heaven or to hell.
You may also like our other Shakespeare posts from this week...
1. Shakespeare, my hero – Podcast conversation with 2 SGI teachers
2. WIN free English lessons at SGI London in our September Shakespeare Competition