Elizabethan Pronunciation

Because pronunciation is tough, it's great to see and hear the plays before you read them, if you can. Perhaps the most obvious sound is that of the rolled R as in mother. Think of a drawn-out pirate arrgh. In general, try to think Irish, or southern United States. The following list of word pronunciations will give you a flavor of the language as it was spoken.

Father

the long a sounds like a in “favor”: F-ay-th-u-rrr.

Want

the a here sounds like the a in “apple.”

Make

the a sounds like mek.

Head

eh sounds like the speech of someone from the deep south of the United States, as in haid, or daid for “dead.”

I

pronounced (like a 1950s doo-wop singer) in two vowels, as in the u in “cup” and the ee in “bee” (uh-ee). Die becomes “duh-ee,” my becomes “muh-ee.”

Down

another doo-wop sound, pronounced uh-oo with the oo as in “soon.” Think Canadian, as in abuh-oot for “about.”

Mercy

the ur sound is pronounced mayor-cy.

Neither

pronounced neigh-ther.

Lord

drawn out oo sound as in “lured.”

Cup

a short and rounded o as in “coop.”

Thee and thou were informal pronouns used to refer to anyone who was your equal and intimate. One is the subject, the other the object of the sentence. For example, “I prithee (a contraction of I pray thee) take a sip,” and “thou hast a fair face.”

If you're going to enjoy Shakespeare, it's important to see the plays or at least listen to audio tapes of them, not just read them on your own. Plays are tough things to read at the best of times, and while the poetry of Shakespeare will spring from the pages soon enough, it helps to have a visual aid.

Then you will muse, as Shakespeare might, “I have never heard so musical a discord, such sweet thunder.”

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