The ONLY Complete Audio Pronunciation Dictionary for the Plays of William Shakespeare.

spapp_iphoWelcome to the reference library of information, articles, and blogs for the Shakespeare Pronunciation app.

Shakespeare Pronunciation is a new and unique mobile app for actors, directors, students, professors, theatre arts classes or anyone who studies the works of William Shakespeare. Available for iPhone and Android!

Louis Scheeder and Shane Ann Younts authors of All The Words on Stage: A Complete Pronunciation Dictionary for the Plays of William Shakespeare” have now turned this unique resource into an even better tool with over 5000 individually recorded words along with corresponding play information at the tap of a button.

What are people saying about the Shakespeare App?

“All actors doing Shakespeare need either a pronunciation dictionary, or this app. GET THE APP! It’s made my life better, because it’s so much more convenient. When you need to know how to pronounce those obscure words or names, you have it in you pocket. Not only that, you have a voice say it for you, which you can’t get from a book.”

“Shakespeare Pronunciation App I love this app! It is super user friendly and the audio is very clear! I highly recommend this gem! Thank you!”

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How did we design the Shakespeare Pronunciation App?

Our pronunciation app is based on our book, All the Words on Stage, A Complete Pronunciation Dictionary for the plays of William Shakespeare. And although it is explicitly a pronunciation dictionary, there is another agenda behind the ostensibly prescriptive notion of the correct pronunciation of the Shakespearean vocabulary. In presenting our work, we hope that it will stir a greater interest on the part of actors and directors, as well as teachers and students, in Shakespeare’s handling of language. We believe that a deeper understanding of Shakespeare’s verse, specifically the rhythm and variants of the iambic pentameter line, can aid actors in their physical and psychological portrayals of his characters. The suggested pronunciations in this dictionary reflect the interweaving of word and rhythm produced by blank verse in its numerous variants.

Shakespeare Pronunciation Dictionary

In recent years, popular interest in Shakespeare has grown enormously but there still exists a major barrier to the plays for many students and actors. That barrier is language. At times, Shakespeare’s language fosters intimidation and instills fear. The intent behind this app is to assist in the dismantling of the barrier of language and to allow students, actors, and the general audience access not only to an articulation of individual words, but also to the world of these plays, which, after all, exists in and through words. We hope to guide the listener not only through the basic pronunciation of individual words, some of which are no longer in current use, but also through the complexities of how the words work in relation to each other.

Our research has revealed that editions of Shakespeare seem to have been created for the reader rather than the actor. However, some editions, like the Pelican, have included markings for stressed “ed” endings in the texts, and others have noted the syllabic divisions of a word in order to respect the rhythm of the verse. The third edition of the Arden series emphasizes the performance aspects of the plays in its introductory essays. Individual editors also suggest pronunciations by including instances of words that elongate (by the addition of a vowel) or shorten (by the deletion of a vowel). There seems to be a growing interest in and attention to the articulation of the plays and their relation to the verse form.

Reference works have partially provided what play editions omit. Theodora Irvine’s How to Pronounce the Names in Shakespeare stems from a survey of leading English actors around 1900. The pronunciations reflect the upper class speech of the Edwardian era. Helge Kokeritz’s Shakespeare’s Names: A Pronouncing Dictionary was the standard work on the pronunciation of character names for many years. The pronunciations tend to be those of English speech with occasional American variants. The book also includes some indications of what Elizabethan pronunciations might have been like. Delbert Spain’s Shakespeare Sounded Soundly contains much valuable information on the working of the verse. He includes an appendix of some 250 words, giving the stresses for polysyllabic words.

We began this project with a list of words that we had heard actors stumble over in the classroom or in rehearsal. We then added character names, as well as proper, geographic, and mythological names, and included words that seemed unfamiliar to a sampling of undergraduates, graduate students, and professional actors. The final step was the inclusion of words that are changed and altered by the play of the iambic pentameter line. Numerous dictionaries proved invaluable for the determination of the pronunciation of words in prose. The scansion of the verse line was the final arbiter for words in verse.

Shakespeare Pronunciation Dictionary

Invariably, at the beginning of one of our workshops or classes, a talented individual will stand in the performance space and either mangle the name of the character that is about to be portrayed or stumble over an unfamiliar word. Several years ago, one of those students turned and asked, “How come there isn’t a resource that tells you how to pronounce it?” Our work is an answer to that question.

Our suggested pronunciations are American. We believe that when American actors speak Shakespeare they should sound American. As recently as the 1960s, actors commonly affected English accents in their performances of Shakespeare. Others adopted an indeterminate mid-Atlantic sound. All too often however, such attempts resulted in a phony quality to their speech and, consequently, their acting became unbelievable. On the other hand, we have witnessed productions where the actors’ desire to sound natural has led them to be unintelligible.

In order that the actor’s voice serves the language, ideas, and world of the play, we believe in the close integration of voice and speech training. To this end, in our private studios and in our individual classes at New York University’s The Classical Studio and the Graduate Acting Department, we use the methods and techniques developed by Robert Neff Williams at Columbia University and The Juilliard School over the last forty years. These techniques allow actors to develop voices that are flexible, varied, and expressive enough to convey the nuance, color, and subtle shading of the words that the character uses whether in an intellectual argument or an emotional outburst. We hope that our work on the pronunciation of the Shakespearean vocabulary contributes to this goal.

We have also created a re-spelling system that we trust is clear, simple, and easy to use by both professional and layperson.  In the Reference Guide under “Scanning the Verse”, we have included some basic principles of iambic pentameter. We have also included a section devoted to Latin and accents, dialects, and foreign languages and one entitled “Afterthoughts,” that considers each of Shakespeare’s plays in turn. In this section, the reader will find examples of words whose pronunciation is altered by the meter, as well as information on difficult words and puns that are specific to each play. Shakespeare has always served as a measure of challenge and accomplishment for actors, students, and theater artists. We hope that this work will contribute to the growing interest in and increasing emphasis on the complexities of Shakespeare’s language, especially his verse, and above all, on the articulation of these texts as works that can be performed.