Shakespeare Pronunciation Mobile App

Royal Shakespeare Company’s Recent Production of “King and Country”

The Royal Shakespeare Company recently finished a run of “King and Country” a series of four of Shakespeare’s history plays performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The opportunity to see “Richard II”, “Henry IV” (Parts 1 and 2) and “Henry V” does not come along very often. The RSC’s new (since 2013) Artistic Director is Gregory Doran and he directed all of these productions.  The highlights, for me, were David Tennant’s Richard II and Antony Sher’s Falstaff.  Tennant gave a layered performance which was filled with passion, strength, and humor and he had an ability to make the verse sound natural without losing the beauty of the poetry. Not easy to do.  Sher breathed new life in to a character that  has been performed by so many extraordinary actors including Simon Russell Beale, Kevin Kline, Orson Welles, and Robbie Coltrane to name a few, that it’s hard to imagine someone finding something new. But this incredibly creative actor did just that.  Falstaff was funnier than I’ve ever seen him but also touching and vulnerable.  Over the years, I have seen Sher play numerous roles – Malvolio in “12th Night”, Shylock in “the Merchant of Venice”, and Richard III in “Richard III” and have always found his performances exciting, truthful, inventive and memorable.  His Falstaff goes to the top of this list.

King and CountryI attended Henry IV (Part 1) with a group of my students including some from my private classes and some from my Graduate Acting Class at NYU.  The students enjoyed the production and were excited by Sher’s performance. One of them was working on a production of “Hamlet” at NYU and she said that hearing the actors had inspired her and had given her new ideas for her own performance.

After the productions I checked the Shakespeare Pronunciation audio app to be sure the actors were pronouncing the words correctly!

Shakespeare Pronunciation Mobile App

O.P. Experience At The Classical Studio.

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.

To read about the results of the O. P. of Hamlet, read the following article entitled, “Production of Hamlet in O.P.“.
Shakespeare Pronunciation Mobile App

Production of Hamlet in O.P.

Results of Hamlet in O.P

Rehearsals of Hamlet in O.P. proved revelatory, and the students initiated a blog to track their discoveries.  New wordplay emerged from a text with which the directors were thoroughly familiar.  The personalities of the characters attained greater contours than they would have in either Standard American or in R.P. (Received Pronunciation, or what used to be known as “BBC English”).  While the text at first seemed somewhat foreign to the actors and directors, it grew to sound utterly natural over time.

What does O.P. sound like?  A blend of Irish, Scottish, Southern American, and, as many folks have half-jokingly noted, “pirate.” Intriguingly, it sounds nothing at all like what people often presume to be a “correct” or appropriate pronunciation of Shakespeare replete with plummy vowels.  The diction sounds more colloquial and conversational than the patrician dialects most often associated with Shakespeare productions.  The O.P. had the effect of rendering all characters, whether royalty or commoner, of the same class.  This buttressed Shakespeare’s almost forgotten habit of eliminating differences between princes and paupers.  The O.P. had the effect of erasing the all-too-standard distinction between the cockney speaking Gravedigger and the characters of the court.

The Classical Studio shared its many discoveries with the community of the Department of Drama by hosting a symposium that brought together students, dialecticians, directors, and historians.  Noted dialect authority, Paul Meier, Skyped in from the University of Kansas to address the conference.  In addition, the Studio partnered with Laura Levine, an Associate Professor of Theatre Studies, and her “Shakespeare and Epistemology” honors seminar, on our exploration of the value of O.P. for both production and scholarship.

A rewarding and enlightening experience was had by all.
Shakespeare Pronunciation Mobile App

Acting students use the Shakespeare Audio Pronunciation App

shakespeare audio pronunciationMy First Year students in the Graduate Acting Program at New York University have been very enthusiastic about using the Shakespeare Audio Pronunciation app as they rehearse their First Year Shakespeare projects. Half of the class is working on “Hamlet” and the other half is rehearsing “Macbeth”. These projects are the culmination of their First Year of training where they work to combine voice, and speech work with text work while they are dealing with the demands of Shakespeare’s language. They told me that at the beginning of the rehearsals, they used the app every night to check the pronunciations of the unusual words and the character and place names. Most of the students had a copy of “All the Words on Stage, a Complete Pronunciation Dictionary for the Plays of William Shakespeare” by Louis Scheeder and Shane Ann Younts, which is the source for the Shakespeare Audio Pronunciation app, but they preferred to hear the words pronounced.  The students found that being able to go to their mobile phones or tablets and click on a word was very convenient. I showed them that clicking on “More” takes them to the “Official Shakespeare Pronunciation Reference Website” which has additional information including a section on “Scanning the Verse”, “Latin”, “Accents, Dialects and Foreign Languages”, and “Words to Watch Out For”.  The section “Words to Watch Out For” gives a sampling of words in each play that expand or contract to fulfill the demands of the meter. In addition there are examples of words where the stress is different than the stress used today. One example is the word “revenue” which today we pronounce with the stress on the first syllable but often in Shakespeare the stress is on the second syllable.  Other basic information included for each play is the percentage of verse and pros.

shakespeare audio pronuciation

Shakespeare Pronunciation Mobile App

"All's Well That Ends Well" with Shakespeare Pronunciation

Recently I was working on a production of “All’s Well that Ends Well” for the Graduate Acting Program at New York University. Because I had taught the students for two years, they were familiar with my voice and speech work and knew how to incorporate our classroom work in to the production. During the Third Year, we worked on scanning the lines, how to build a speech, how to find the spine of the thought, how to do a parenthetical and other technical elements. Having the opportunity to use all of the tools we had worked on in class, while they were acting the play, was incredibly valuable for the actors.

One of the challenges of “All’s Well that Ends Well” is to pronounce the names of the characters correctly so that all of the characters are seen (and heard) as living in the same world. We used the Shakespeare Pronunciation audio app so that everyone was saying roh-SIL-yuhn for the Countess Rossillion and her son, Bertram. Parolles is always interesting because there are two possibilities with his name. We used puh-ROHL-iz. The actor playing the role chose this from the two pronunciations that were listed on the Shakespeare Pronunciation audio app. Consistency within the names of the characters is important so that the audience is not pulled out of the action by going “What did he say? I thought she said the name another way.” We want the audience engaged in the action of the play.

Everyone who saw the production of “All’s Well that Ends Well” commented on how clear the actors were. The audience understood everything that they were saying which is no small thing in Shakespeare! The actors were also dealing with the demands of being heard in a huge theater with bad acoustics and again the audience commented on how clear the actors were and that they could be heard in that large space.

All’s Well that Ends Well

Shakespeare Pronunciation Mobile App

Features of the Shakespeare Pronunciation App

shakespeare_writingThe mobile audio Shakespeare Dictionary, is for anyone who is acting in Shakespeare’s plays or is teaching the plays or just likes to read the plays. The actors or readers have a quick access to the pronunciations of the words in all of the plays. This includes character and place names as well as any unusual words. More than 5000 words are included and in addition to the audio, the words are respelled in a simple respelling system that is easy to follow.  The Key to Pronunciation, which is at the bottom of each page, gives a quick reference to the respelling system.

In some cases the Shakespeare Dictionary has definitions to clarify which pronunciation goes with which word. For example “wind” is listed three times.  “Wind (n)” is “a current of air” and pronounced and respelled WIND. “Wind (v)” is “ to blow” and is pronounced and respelled WIND. “Wind (v)” “(to turn or twist)” is pronounced and respelled WEYEND.  These brief definitions will help the actor or student or teacher know which pronunciation to use.

In the Shakespeare Dictionary there is a section called “More” and this section includes an essay on Scanning the Verse, and a section on the Accents and Dialects that are used in the plays. In addition, there is a section called “Words to Watch Out For” which offers brief observations on the words with unusual stress in that play as well as words that expand or contract depending of the demands of the metre. For example, revenue is pronounced today with a stress on the first syllable but in Shakespeare’s plays the word often require a stress on the second syllable. These words are examples to guide the user to other words in the play with unusual stress, expansion or contraction. There is also a listing of how much prose and/or verse there is in each play, as well as the amount of rhyming verse.