Despite the relevance of Shakespeare’s work to modern life, what theater-maker hasn’t fantasized about getting a glimpse of what an original production of these plays sounded like? This year, The Classical Studio took a step towards expanding the “original practices” movement by learning O.P. (Original Pronunciation) in preparation for the Studio’s production of Hamlet this past spring.
O.P. is the culmination of research by linguists who have spent recent years re-constructing the Elizabethan dialect. With the assistance of dialect coach, Jennifer Geizhals, the actors of The Classical Studio learned O.P. and presented Hamlet as it would have sounded at its premiere over 400 years ago.
David Crystal, who with his son Ben created the invaluable Shakespeare’s Words: A Glossary and Language Companion, and is perhaps the leading authority on O.P., pieced together the dialect by examining Elizabethan spelling practices, the use of puns, metrical signposts in the verse, 16th-century references to pronunciation (including the few surviving pronunciation manuals), and rhyme. The last proved to be of particular value for this linguistic excavation project, as many rhymes in Shakespeare’s plays and, especially, the sonnets provided significant clues for pronunciation.
Throughout the fall, while the studio rehearsed and performed its production of As You Like It, students took class with Jennifer Geizhals to begin learning the idiosyncratic vowel sounds of O.P. Through the winter break, they continued their lessons with Jennifer via Skype and returned in late January fully prepared to rehearse Hamlet in what is now thought to be its original dialect.