The Problem and Promise of "Original Pronunciation"

A half truth is worse than a whole lie
אַ האַלבער אמת איז ערגער פון אַ גאַנצן ליגן
—Yiddish Proverb

Talking about "Shakespearean pronunciation" is complicated by two factors:

(1) the linguistic situation of Shakespeare's time
(2) the linguistic attitudes of our time.

As David Crystal reminds us on his website, Shakespeare's London was in great flux, linguistically as much as anything else. To illustrate the problems of reconstructing "Elizabethan English" pronunciation, here is a brief and rough history of the pronunciation of the words PALE, PAIL, PEAL, PEEL in London English over the course of two and a half centuries. For the benefit non-linguists, I've linked all my IPA transcriptions to audio files of me articulating the sounds. This chronology (mostly) takes after  Roger Lass in the Cambridge History of the English Language, Jeremy Smith's Sound Change and the History of English, and Dick Leith's Social History of English. There are uncertainties about what happened when, but I've tried to be vague enough to accommodate them.

14th century:
These words are pronounced /pa:l pail pɛ:l pe:l/

15th century:
Shakespeare's grandfather is born
PEEL has become /pi:l/
PALE is being, or has already been, raised to /pæ:l/ in innovative speech.

16th century:
Shakespeare is born (1564).

There is good evidence for at least three (actually probably four) different sociolects in the city at this point. They can very tentatively, generally and probably over-simplistically be identified with particular social groups.
— Sociolect 1 has merged PALE and PAIL into /pɛ:l/ while raising PEAL to /pe:l/.
— Sociolect 2, has merged PAIL and PEAL into /pɛ:l/ while keeping PALE distinct as /pæ:l/.
— Sociolect 3 keeps them (mostly) distinct with /pæ:l pæil pɛ:l~pe:l pi:l/ for PALE, PAIL, PEAL, PEEL.
17th century:
Shakespeare dies (1616). The three Englishes of London continue their developments in broadly similar but distinct directions. By 1640 at the latest:
— Sociolect 1 is on its way to raising PEAL to /pi:l/, merging it with PEEL, and raising  PALE/PAIL to /pe:l/.
— Sociolect 2 has merged and raised PAIL, PEAL and PALE as /pe:l/.
— Sociolect 3 has merged PAIL/PALE raised it to /pɛ:l/, while at the same time raising PEAL up to /pe:l/, and keeping them both distinct from PEEL /pi:l/.
The times they were a-changing and the language did too. Between Shakespeare's birth and his death, just looking at these four vowels, the sounds of English rearranged themselves in different ways in three different accents all available to him in a single city. And not at a uniform rate, either. Cranky orthoepists give evidence that Sociolect 3 still has conservative stragglers resisting the PAIL/PALE merger as late as the 1620s. What was Shakespeare's pronunciation? And when during his own lifetime shall we place "his pronunciation?"

Sociolect 3 seems to hold the day as the high English literary norm through most of the rest of the century, but remains in competition with Sociolect 2, and by the 18th century both have begun to give way to Sociolect 1. For a while the PEAL vowel retains two alternate pronunciations. The merged forms of Sociolect 2 and the residual highfalutin yet low-vowelling pressure of Sociolect 3 allows the /e:/ of PEAL to hang on in a few words (great, steak, break etc.) long enough to merge with the PAIL/PALE vowel instead of the PEEL vowel. (A few Englishes, such as the older West Country Newfoundland accent, have this in many other words like sea, beak and leak.)

Modern Literary English is —more or less— the continuation of a form of English that emerged from a blend of different elements, in different proportions, drawn from the different Englishes spoken in 16th century London. There is thus no such thing as a single "Elizabethan" or "Shakespearean" pronunciation. The London of Shakespeare's day, no less than the London of our own day, was one of great linguistic variety. Pronouncing texts like a late 16th century Londoner requires asking first: what kind of Londoner exactly, and how far can you push the evidence?

Moreover, pronunciation used in performance or recitation is not necessarily how one speaks at home. (Eminem's normal speech does not display the pen/pin merger, but the rhymes and pronunciation he uses when he raps very much do.) Like other Renaissance English poets, Shakespeare could and did maximize his options for rhymes, as well as their expressive potential, by drawing on the different varieties of English available to him.

Shakespeare's sonnets seem to me to rhyme in Sociolect 3 slightly more than his plays do. But only slightly. Compare this to, say, Sir Philip Sidney whose sonnets rhyme almost without exception in a conservative Sociolect 3 throughout, with no evidence even of the PALE/PAIL merger. Yet for all his highfalutin, Sidney rhymes instead as if it were /ɪnsti:d/ seemingly drawn from Sociolect 1. John Hart's phonetic script too has <instịd> /ɪnsti:d/ for the same word. John Davies has an epigrammatic witticism rhyming indeed with instead (spelled <in steed>). But instead even if it was /ɪnsti:d/ for Sidney, Hart, Davies must have had another pronunciation alongside this one, in order to yield the word's modern form.

Sound-changes do not happen at a uniform rate in all lexical items in which they are possible. They happen in some words earlier than others. Which words those are will differ from speaker to speaker. (Click here for an account of precisely this phenomenon in my own pronunciation of English.) This has important implications for the use of rhyme to determine the chronology of mergers and vowel shifts: just because a vowel has shifted in a given word it does not necessarily follow that all the other words in the same lexical class have shifted too. A word undergoing a shift will for a time retain two alternate pronunciations, and sometimes if the sound-change is interrupted it can end up shifting "back" and settling on its older form. If a poet only occasionally interrhymes two formerly distinct vowels, even assuming that rhyme can be taken to imply complete identity of syllable nuclei, this by itself cannot be taken to imply that the vowels have completely merged in the poet's dialect. If the interrhyming disproportionately occurs with the same small set of lexical items (like, say, if bait specifically is repeatedly being rhymed as if it were beat but other historical /ai/ words are kept distinct) then one is doubly unjustified in suggesting that a full merger has occurred.

Ultimately, even though Early Modern London English is better documented than a lot of other historical Englishes, we still lack the level of evidence necessary to reproduce that level of granular detail from four and a half centuries ago. Any phonological reconstruction of a language in the middle of massive sound-change must content itself with approximate generalities.

That is the problem of Shakespeare's time.

***A Modern Myth***

The problem of our own time is a fungus of ideologies concerning Shakespeare's English and its relation to Modern English.

Many Anglophones like to feel that Shakespeare's English is "Our Language." It is part of many literate English-speaker's self-conception. This is why they so commonly overestimate how well they actually understand Shakespeare's language, and also why many who happily forgo the King James Bible for a more modern English Bible have continued to express horror and incredulity at the sacrilegious idea of literary translations of Shakespeare into modern English. (If you want to know what someone has invested their identity in, look for what gets them irrationally upset.)

Much discussion and description of what is commonly labeled OP has come from parties with axes to grind: a vested aesthetic interest in a Shakespearean English that sounds equally relatable to all modern Englishes and which is also "no more difficult for an audience to understand than any modern regional accent." It is appealing to think of Shakespeare's English, if not modern, as being at least modern enough to be "our English" in some sense.


***All Dumb and Glum, and Doesn't Look Like Luck***

David Crystal, one of the world's foremost experts on the history of English, has defended his use of unrounded vowels in words like "cut" and even "doom" in OP with the point that rounded vowels "pushed the accent too much towards Irish, and – as a general principle – I find directors don’t want characters to associate too strongly with any one modern accent." Ultimately, as Crystal says, "the beauty of OP...is that it contains echoes of many modern accents but can be identified with none of them."

The desire to preserve this "beauty of OP," an aesthetic of linguistic equidistance which validates the conception of Shakespeare's English as our "Mother Tongue", is in unresolvable tension with the professed aim of trying "to get as close as possible to the sound system that Shakespeare himself would have heard and used." In Crystal's case, one could be forgiven for thinking the quest for that beauty has led him to posit unrounded vowel (transcribed as /ɤ/ in Crystal's dictionary, but in practice rendered as /ʌ/ in OP performances) for Shakespeare's time not only in words like flood, cup, but even in words like doom.

Here is Crystal's section on the proposed /ɤ/ vowel, for which he gives keywords CUP, STUFF, DRUM (but other words such as DOOM, MOVE):
The quality is further back and closer than the equivalent vowel in RP, /ʌ/. Opinions vary as to how far back it would have been, with values proposed between [ə] and unrounded cardinal 7 [ɤ]. In my view, the latter is more likely, hence the choice of this symbol in the transcription. A u spelling is the norm for this vowel, and there are several instances where there is overlap with o, suggesting the back quality, as in sodaine / sudden, sommer / summer, Sonday / Sunday, dombe / dumbe, tombles / tumble. The emendation at Ham 3.3.18 of somnet to summit also reflects this quality. Contemporary writers reinforce this view, as in the quotation from Jonson (p. xx), where the o of love and prove is said to be ‘akin to u’, which in turn he describes as ‘thick and flat’ in such words as usAs both o and u were routinely used for rounded vowels, the question arises as to whether the vowel in these words was rounded, as in many parts of northern England today. The evidence is unclear: in the same section, Jonson describes o as being pronounced ‘with a round mouth’, but immediately adds that this ‘is a letter of much change, and uncertainty with us’. The spelling of slumber as slomber by Macmorris (H5 3.2.111) suggests a rounding that would be absent from the non-Scots form. And there are rhymes with unrounded front vowels that are also suggestive, such as shudder / adder, Sunday / array, us / guess, punish / languish. My view is that both unrounded and rounded variants were in use at the time (as they are today), but opting for the unrounded form as the default in this dictionary allows actors the choice of using the rounded variant if they want to differentiate a character. Certainly, if they were to replace all [ɤ] by [ʊ], it would result in an OP of a noticeably different auditory character (much closer to, say Yorkshire or Irish English in effect), as this vowel is very common, being used in some frequently occurring in words (must, us, under, the un- and sub- prefixes, etc.). On the other hand, they do not have to adopt such a noticeable lip-rounding as we hear in present-day regional accents, and I would not correct a slight degree of rounding, when working with a company.
.

There are a few other problems. Ben Jonson's grammar, though it is important as a source in many respects, tended to piggyback off of the Latin grammarian tradition, which tended to horribly conflate spelling and orthography. Terminology like "thick and flat" recycles (in translation) the Latin grammarians use of the words "pinguis" and "latus" and is useless as a characterization. Jonson uses these terms in English even more imprecisely, and less helpfully, than ancient grammarians did in Latin.

The variation between <o> and <u> in spelling is made far too much of here. While it is true that a "u spelling is the norm for this vowel" there is a range of words (off the top of my head: come, some, son, done, won and the adjectival ending -some) where the o spelling was and still is normal. Sun and son are two different words distinguished only by orthography, which were every bit as homophonous in Hamlet's pun then as they are today. The fact that <o> is often used in words where <u> was more customary really tells one nothing of great importance beyond the fact that the spelling was unstable. Incidentally, <slomber> for <slumber> in Henry V occurs in Jamy's dialogue, not Macmorris'. But that doesn't hardly matter. What does matter is that <slomber>, though not the common spelling, is not at all an outlandish spelling variant. This spelling of this precise word also occurs in one of Queen Elizabeth's letters to James' I, in the Book of Common Prayer (1559), in Thomas Lodge's Rosalynde, multiple times in Spencer and in quite a few other places too numerous to bother looking up individually, often when the author has a fondness for old-fashioned orthography, unsurprisingly as this is an extremely common Middle English spelling.

In H5 <slomber> (like < theise> for these in the same passage) is probably not meant to suggest anything peculiar about Jamy's (or anybody's) pronunciation of that word. It is at best a case of eye-dialect, the use of a distinctive spelling not so as to suggest a particular, let alone peculiar, pronunciation, but to convey the writer's attitude toward the speaker, or indicate the "kind of person" a speaker is. <Gonna> and <wanna> are often used this way to represent the speech of uneducated persons in modern Written English, even though the pronunciations they imply are common among all kinds of English-speakers in all but the most carefully enunciated, heavily monitored speech. Martyn F. Wakelin, in his anthology of Southwestern English dialect texts from the 16th-20th centuries, finds pervasive instances of this use of eye-dialect (to add a purely visual flavor even in texts genuinely meant to represent non-standard or regional language), which he terms "empty forms":
The writers use large numbers of what I am venturing to call 'empty spellings' or 'empty forms', forms such as iz 'is', lite 'light'....which add nothing in the slightest degree 'regional' to the  phonology of the text, but are presumably intended to heighten the effect of earthiness or rusticity (in early texts, however, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish them from merely older spellings).
<slomber>, if not such an "empty form", may indeed be a "merely older spelling." It is beyond unacceptable to dragoon this spelling into an implication that the Scots vowel in slumber sounded in any way peculiar to southerners, let alone in this specific way which actually mirrors a highly salient modern sociolinguistic variable and dialect stereotype.

Modern stereotypes are very much to the point, here. Crystal suggests the use of the rounded variant to "differentiate a character." The implication is that the rounded vowel might be treated as a sort of shibboleth in "OP" in a way that just so happens to mirror the attitudes and experiences of modern Southern Standard English speakers who respond to (and often make fun of) this vowel as a marked regionalism. We have hard evidence that educated men born and raised in London perceived words of this type to have a rounded vowel readily relatable to the rounded vowels of other European languages. John Florio's Italian-English dictionary of 1611, for example, equates the vowel of Dug, Stun with that of Italian rosa. Even if one were to grant for the sake of argument that "both unrounded and rounded variants were in use at the time" there is zero reason to assume any kind of identity between their distribution of use "at the time" and how and where they are used today.

I'm quite not sure how array/sunday is at all relevant to the point, since this rhyme does not concern back vowels or rounded vowels of any kind.

Looking at the context in Love's Labor Lost, I'm not convinced that guess/us/thus is meant as a rhyme. It seems more likely that the rhyme is meant to be us/thus with the line-ending guess as a singleton breaking up a long series of couplets. And I genuinely doubt punish/languish in Pericles is actually intended as a rhyme at all, given the context. There's no arguing that shudder/adder is intended as a rhyme, though. And there are a handful more such forms. But they are rare, and no more common in Shakespeare than rhymes of the type hither/father which cannot be taken to imply anything about either vowel involved.

But one must consider other rhyme evidence: love and prove were fuller rhymes then than they are today. Jonson indeed describes these vowels as identical, as do others later on in the 17th century. But these words also rhyme with things like Strove, Jove for which Crystal satisfies the fetish for perfect rhyme by giving /ɤ/ as a variant pronunciation, for which is really no evidence. Now the word Lover can rhyme with Over in this period, and none other than Jonson on the same page clearly implies that the vowels in these words was not the same. But /lʊvǝr/ and /o:vǝr/ make for a far closer rhyme than if one has /lɤvǝr/ for the former.

Given Shakespeare's habit of rhyming things like dull/pull and flood/food quite readily (even as he generally avoids crossrhyming the MOOD vowel with the reflex of Middle English /ɛu ɪu/ in words like viewed, lewd, rude), if one takes Crystal's point about the importance of full-rhymes and the relative rarity of imperfect rhymes at face value, reconstructing a CUT vowel extended to BLOOD and FLOOD is unjustified, and the tiny handful of mostly-debatable cases Crystal mentions here is dwarfed by the mass of rhymes of the dull/pull, flood/food and bud/understood types.

I suspect that Crystal gives us the transcription /ɤ/ and makes a point about the vowel being notably higher than that of modern cup, in part because <ɤ> is the IPA symbol for the unrounded counterpart to /o/ and (and traditionally this symbol is used in broad transcription to represent even higher vowels like [ɯ̽], which would pair nicely with /ʊ/.) This allows rhymes like dull/pull to be treated as rhymes that are only "differentiated by a single distinctive feature."

But there really is no solid evidence for such an unrounded vowel in, say, CUT existing at all in English before Shakespeare's death, let alone in words of the flood type. But Crystal has no other option, really, if he wants to both preserve rhymes like doom/come and avoid sounding "too Irish" for our delicate Anglo ears.

As Crystal wrote in 2005:
The thing about OP which makes it different from other non-RP performances – and the most fascinating thing about it – is the way it occupies a unique dialect space, resonating with several modern accents and yet at a distance from all of them.
All well and good, but there seems to be some motivated thinking (and no small amount of language-mysticism) going on here. Performing a reconstruction has the effect of distancing the text from Modern English, and it follows for artistic, and also ideological, reasons that that distance must be managed to productive ends. In practice, what actually seems to happen with many OP performances is a weird back-projection of modern notions of standard or correct language into the world of the Renaissance, a historicization of Modern Standard English that claims for it a relatable past and a determined canon of sorts.
In fact, one of the most noticeable features of the talkback sessions after the OP performances was the way people associated EME pronunciation with an accent they knew. Everyone felt at home with it, but for different reasons. The conclusion is obvious: no modern accent is identical with EME. All share some features, for the simple reason that we are talking about an accent (more precisely, a group of accents) which is the ancestor of the accents we hear in English today. And not just British English, but English all over the world. Captain John Smith and his settlers would arrive in Virginia in 1606, the year (we believe) that Shakespeare was writing Macbeth.
Australian English is about two centuries younger as a phonological entity than Shakespeare's corpse. Neither Captain John Smith nor Sir John Rolfe was from London. No single chronological or regional variety of British English is directly ancestral to any of the world Englishes. London continued to exert influence in port towns in America after the Revolution. This, combined with the effects of dialect leveling, make for a complicated history which I know Crystal is perfectly well aware of, but which sadly is not as sexy as the idea of Shakespeare's English giving birth to ours. (If anything, the ancestor of American English is not 16th century London English, but early 18th century London English.) And I call bullshit on the term "British English" if you imply that any accent of Renaissance London English (let alone one with an unrounded CUT vowel) is the direct ancestor of Paul McCartney's Liverpool accent. This kind of linguistic mythmaking annoys me.

***Arr Matey***

Speaking of delicate Anglo ears, it is also no accident that most OP productions don't use a trilled or tapped /r/ in initial or prevocalic position even though the sources strongly suggest that this was the case in at least some varieties of 16th century London English. Almost all modern rhotic dialects of English have an alveolar or rhetroflex approximant of some kind in words like round. So do modern OP productions. The use of a trill or tap would inevitably sound too distractingly regional (and not a few actors would have trouble with it.) The fact that it was not so regionally marked in Shakespeare's day turns out in practice to be of secondary importance in OP productions, where the general practice is to use whatever /r/ is present in the actors' native accents.

****

Crystal, to be fair, is not naive. Nor is he dogmatic. He has introduced various levels of variation in the OP performances he has helped stage. He understands that OP is a modern performance tool, not  a museum piece. This is probably why he has succeeded where many other OP experiments failed. But, again, there is a sleight of hand that I find more than irritating. I get the claim of "Shakespeare in his own authentic pronunciation" as a marketing tactic. At what point, though, does it become false advertising?

When I watch an OP performance, knowing what I know about the sources and issues involved, I can't help feeling like I'm being asked to bask in the ostensible "authenticity" of it all, and at the same time being being subtly lied to. It leaves a really unsavory taste on the brain.

***Making Shakespeare Grate Again***

Looking in Crystal's dictionary, another thing that raised my eyebrows was that great and grate are transcribed as homophones (/grɛ:t/) whereas sate and seat are not. This is odd, especially since none other than seat and great rhymes in Shakespeare and one would have thought the desire to restore the euphony in Shakespeare's rhymes would've motivated at least a listing of a higher vowel as an alternate pronunciation of great, but the only rhyme-motivated alternate given for great is /gret/.

Here again it is hard to avoid the suspicion that modern standard forms of English are having a weirdly determinative effect on what Crystal would have OP sound like. As I have just described above, the real trajectory of the vowel in great (i.e. the PEAL vowel) was rather complicated. As late as the early 18th century, there were still speakers who pronounced great as if it were greet.  Transcribing great as having /ɛ:/ and thus merged anachronistically with grate (he also does this with brake/break) is to let modern standard pronunciation dictate the OP forms rather mechanically. (On the other hand speak is given two alternate pronunciations.)

Now, you've got to make things a bit simpler for the actors. Crystal's OP transcription generally has the (somewhat anachronistic) peel/peal merger:
These two types of word [PEAL/PEEL], phonologically distinct in Middle English, are not distinguished in this dictionary. It is not clear just how far a merger would have taken place by the end of the sixteenth century, or which words would have been affected. But there is a consensus that the gradual rising in this part of the vowel-space still had some way to go before reaching the present-day value of /i:/, which is shown in Gimson and derivative works as close to cardinal 2. In OP it seems likely to have been nearer to cardinal 1—and thus similar to the Modern French vowel in bébé. Transcriptionally, it could therefore be symbolized as /e:/—and this was the practice adopted in Crystal (2005). However, actors found this confusing, with the letter e also being used for the more open short vowel (see above); there was a persistent tendency to over-open the long vowel, so that sleep, for example, would be pronounced as /slɛ:p/, thus neutralizing the contrast between such pairs as meek and make. In the present dictionary I have accordingly kept the /i:/ symbol, so that in OP training it is necessary to remind practitioners of its more open character compared to RP.
Oh but it is clear that the merger had not fully taken place by the end of the 16th century. To my knowledge, no historical phonologist specializing in Early Modern English thinks otherwise. Rhymes of the type TEA/SAY continue into the early 18th century, and very few poets show anything like a full merger before then. Statistical analyses of rhyming habits tend to back this up as well. The PEAL vowel is indeed far more likely to rhyme with the PELL vowel or the PILL vowel than the PEEL vowel. None of the many sources we have for this period describe anything like /i:/ for the PEAL vowel. On the contrary, contemporary foreign observers tend to equate it with their language's /e:/ or even /ɛ:/. The various early phoneticists trying to reform English spelling make it very clear that they perceive the PEEL and PEAL vowels as distinct.

More importantly for our purposes, Shakespeare generally does not interrhyme the two anymore than he interrhymes other similar (yet unarguably distinct) vowels. He is just as likely to rhyme the PEAL vowel with the PELL or the PALE/PAIL vowel (as in sea/say,  Macbeth/heath, bequeath/death, bless/peace, east/west) as he is with the PEEL vowel (e.g. sea/thee, please/knees, beseech/teach.) Note that whereas he does interrhyme the PELL vowel with the PEAL vowel, he does not  generally interrhyme the PELL vowel with the PEEL vowel. This on its own, even were other evidence lacking, would strongly suggest that the two vowels were distinct for Shakespeare.

I am not sure what Crystal actually means when he says that "there is a consensus that the gradual rising in this part of the vowel-space still had some way to go before reaching the present-day value of /i:/." There is certainly a consensus that the HEAL vowel had not yet merged with the HEEL vowel. But if he means that neither the HEEL nor the HEAL vowel had yet reached /i:/ then I am not sure what tree he is barking up. By most accounts, HEEL was already essentially /i:/ in this period. Historical phonologists of a great many methodological schools, from Donka Minkova to her cranky adversary Roger Lass are in agreement on this. (The most that some will allow is that early on this may have actually been phonetically a bit lower for some earlier speakers, a sound transcribable as [ɪ̟:] or [e̝:].)

It is certainly possible for a language to lack an /i/ sound. Many Quechuan languages have only /ɪ/. Tehuelche has just the vowels /e a o/ with no close vowels. Adyghe and many Sepik languages have a vertical vowel system consisting only of /ɨ ə a/. But in languages like this, the lack of /i/ is paralleled by a lack of other close vowels, or is compensated for by allophonic variants that do surface as [i]. And it would be typologically anomalous in the extreme for a language whose vowel-grid contains /a: e: ɛ: ɔ: o: u:/ to lack /i:/ altogether. Usually when there is a gross asymmetry in the vowel grid, it is the back vowels that are lacking, and not the front vowels.

That whole paragraph frankly seems like it is soft-peddling its solution to two understandable problems.

First problem: as Crystal himself has admitted elsewhere, modern English-speaking actors cannot reliably be taught to pronounce three different vowel-heights for PEEL/PEAL/PALE within a reasonable amount of time. For a Modern English speaker, learning to correctly pronounce these three vowels of Elizabethan English would every bit as difficult as learning to correctly pronounce the three different vowels of Modern French pris, pré, près. I myself, as an accent coach for a stage performance employing Middle English, found it extremely difficult to get a single actor to reproduce an /i: e: ɛ:/ contrast consistently. Hell, just getting people to distinguish /ɛ:/ and /e:/ consistently is a trick. I could only imagine the problems that would be involved with getting a whole cast to do this. So that is completely understandable. But I see no reason not to be forthright about that in the dictionary. (For a case in point, listen to this recording of Ben Crystal, David's son, reading sonnet 116 in Crystal's OP. Even he, after lots of practice, still can't manage to keep the /ɛ:/ of shaken/taken distinct from the anachronistic /e:/ he is trying to pronounce in weeks/cheeks. He actually winds up pronouncing a higher vowel for the former!)

Second problem: a HEAL/HEEL contrast would actually make some of Shakespeare's rhymes (like beseech/teach etc.) rather less perfect than they would be if read aloud in a modern accent. That is really not a problem at all, unless you proceed from an ideological assumption that Shakespeare's rhymes must always be more euphonious in late 16th century pronunciation than in a Modern accent. On average this is certainly true, but a language with more vowel contrasts  naturally lends itself to somewhat more "imperfect" rhymes. In a London where coexisting sociolects had related but perceptibly different front-vowel mergers in progress, there is no reason at all to assume that the concept of "full" rhymes meant exactly the same thing to Shakespeare as it does to us. Nor is there reason to assume that a rhyme that is "good enough" for the stage must be "good enough" for a sonnet. Different genres may have different rhyme requirements. I can't believe I'm saying this, but one really ought not to make rhyme into an aesthetic fetish that blocks out other considerations.

But by giving us a merged HEEL/HEAL vowel, Crystal actually creates two completely unnecessary problems for himself. First, it limits the usefulness of his dictionary. Not all reconstructive actors or reenactors are alike. Some can and will go the extra mile for a vowel.  Those actors who want to try and give a performance with unmerged /i:/ and /e:/, but have not been cursed with the demonic drive that leads one to obsessively study Old and Middle English phonology, will be completely unable to figure out which words have /i:/ as in HEEL and which have /e:/ as in HEAL using this dictionary. They could usually look at the spelling, but the spelling is not a sure guide to a word's historical vowels, particularly with the loanwords that comprise the overwhelping majority of the English lexicon. For example, the following words had the HEAL vowel: these, complete, extreme, theme, scene, Jesus. 
Moreover, it makes certain rhymes less perfect than they otherwise would be. Shakespeare's rhymes like eats/gets, heat/sweat cannot accommodate a merged HEEL/HEAL vowel without positing a massive number of alternate forms. This is what Crystal does in many cases, but it's quite unnecessary. Variation there assuredly was, as I've said, but some of these supposed variants are suspect. Giving e.g. /hɛ:t/ alongside /hi:t/ for heat in order to justify the rhymes with get and sweat really seems like special ple:ding.

***Does the Boy Buying a Buoy Say Bye?**

Speaking of mergers and lack thereof, Crystal reconstructs a single /ǝɪ/ for the vowel of SIGH and that of JOY/BOIL/LOIN. In his dictionary he says
The identity between the two diphthongs that are distinct in RP is an important source of puns in OP, such as voice / vice, lines / loins, boil / bile, and supported by such spellings as biles, byle, byles for boils (n) and the rhyme groin / swine. A few unexpected words take the same value, notably juice, rhyming with voice, which has OED spellings ioyce and joice. The central and higher quality of the opening element of the diphthong is critical here, and is one of the main auditory features of OP, in view of its use in several frequently appearing words, such as my, thy, by, like, time.
The first thing to note is that the spellings like <bile/byle> for boil in the sense "pustule" may not mean what Crystal implies. Boil in this sense is from (Anglian) Old English bīl, like Mile <- Mīl. The regular etymologically expected form would be *<bile>. The Middle English sources overwhelmingly show forms in <y> or <i> and only occasionally in <uy, oy>. The spellings <bile, byle> are the only ones found in Shakespeare's text for this word, and this is how the word is normally spelt in MSS in this period. Such spellings are never used for the verb boil (<- Old French buillir) which is spelled variously <boyle, boile, boyl>. The possibility that the spelling <byle/bile> is due to the peculiar history of this word, rather than evidence of homophony, is strengthened by the fact that we don't find such spellings as *<tye> for toy or the like.

One of of the damagingly unfounded assumptions that Crystal seems to have picked up from people like Kökeritz is that puns may be taken to imply a vowel merger. But puns do not require complete phonological identity of the words in question, let alone a full-blown merger, in order to be effective. Puns are a complex phenomenon, and the perceptibility of a pun depends not only on phonological similarity or identity, but on a variety of syntactic, lexical, prosodic and even socio-cultural factors. Whether your culture accepts puns as a respectable rhetorical device for high artistry, or simply as cheap humor of dads and other groan men, has important implications for the contexts in which you expect and are likely to pick up on puns. (Renaissance English-speakers, like the Ancient Romans or Medieval Persians, held puns in considerably higher literary esteem than modern Britons or North Americans do.)

To a Modern English speaker, the pun in the film title Meet the Fockers is immediately obvious. Indeed, the MPAA almost gave the movie an R-rating just for the title, and was only convinced to give it a PG-13 rating when the filmmakers demonstrated that there were real American people with the surname Focker. We immediately recognize, or rather sense, the punniness of the title, and can infer that the movie is a comedy, even though Focker and Fucker are not, and never have been, homophones for the vast majority of Modern English speakers.

A pun on loin/line or voice/vice does not by itself imply that the words were true homophones (let alone for all speakers in London) anymore than Focker/Fucker in modern English. All that can be said is that they sounded similar enough to be interpretable as puns by an audience used to puns in this context.

As mentioned further below, it is unclear whether the vowel of SIGH was at this point /ɛɪ/ or /ǝɪ/. But let us allow /ǝɪ/ there for the sake of argument. The vowels of JOY and LOIN have different historical pedigrees, the former from Middle English /oi/ and the latter from Middle English /ui/. The ME /oi/ and /ui/ vowels develop differently.

What complicates matters is that many ME /oi/ words seem to have had variants in /ui/, and that later on in the century, some time after Shakespeare's death, we do have quite unambiguous evidence of a full merger for /ui/ words and some /oi/ words (leading to modern lexical doublets like rile/roil, heist/hoist.) But even then most original /oi/ words like <toy> were still distinct from the vowel of <tie>. The merger was reversed in the late 18th century due at least in part to spelling. A parallel process took place in Scots (in modern Scots, ME /ui/ -> /ǝɪ/ whereas ME /oi/ -> /ɔɛ/.)

Later poets not uncommonly use rhymes like line/join, choice/device, and some of Shakespeare's contemporaries rhyme the reflex of ME /i:/ with that of ME /ui/. (Spenser, for example, has: destroy/Ispoil/beguile, join'd/mind, destroyed/cried. Samuel Daniel has while/toil and the like.) But even a rhyme like mile/toil does not necessarily entail a complete vowel merger at the time of composition. Mile/toil could still be a possible rhyme if the TILE vowel was a diphthong but TOIL vowel was a triphthong of some kind distinguished by a labial an onglide. I.e. TILE /tɛɪ̯l/ but TOIL /tu̯ɛɪ̯l/. Something like this is indeed implied by a few 17th century orthoepists.

There are other problems with the characterization of TOY/TIE, TROY/TRY, FOIL/FILE as complete homophones. One is that they just do not behave the same way when used as rhymes. For example, the final -y of words like remedy could rhyme either with that of TRY or with that of TREE. Rhymes of the type try/remedy are banally common in Renaissance English verse, and alternate freely in the same poet's work (and often in the same poem) with rhymes of the tree/remedy type, even though try/tree cannot rhyme with one another directly. Now, although the vowel of remedy is extremely commonly rhymed with that of try, it is very rarely rhymed with that of Troy (Marlowe has harmony/destroy followed by legacy/sky. I am unable to find another example.) If you can have a rhyme remedy/try more easily than remedy/Troy, it is unacceptable to assume that the two words were pronounced identically because of a few puns. It makes scarcely more sense than if one were to claim that the alternation between rhymes of the type try/remedy and tree/remedy meant that try and tree were homophones.

In fact, the TROY and TRY type words occasionally occur in positions relative to each other where a rhyme would normally be actively avoided. The following quatrain (Sonnet 58, lines 8-12) is taken from Thomas Watson's Tears of Fancie:

So have I found and now too deerely trie,
That pleasure doubleth paine and blisse annoy:
Yet will I twit my selfe of Surcuidrie,
As one that am unworthy to injoy

I see four possibilities here:
(1) that this ABAB pattern is simply based on spelling
(2) that the ABAB pattern is based on a convention established by literary precedent (as when 20th century poets use rhymes like memory/eye even though the vowels no longer sound anything alike)
(3) that the TRY/TROY merger was operating but still incomplete.
(4) that there was no merger yet at all, and that annoy/enjoy was indeed a closer rhyme than try/annoy. 

The former two are quite unlikely. The fourth makes a good deal more sense than the third.

It's worth pointing out that, whereas Spenser and others use rhymes of the type toil/compile, Shakespeare himself avoids them almost entirely. The groin/swine rhyme that Crystal mentions above appears to be the only cross-rhyme of this type in the entire Shakespearian corpus. It's not clear how to interpret this particular rhyme, since the form groin itself is an irregular development from earlier <grine> under the influence of loin. Even so, it may be no accident that swine has an onset cluster with /w/. If these two words were /swɛɪn/ and /gru̯ɛɪn/ they would still rhyme just fwine.

Consider also the way in which English <oy> is sometimes equated with the French <oi, oy>. French orthography before the 19th century used <oi, oy> for two sounds, one corresponding to /ɛ/ (respelled as <ai> in modern orthography) and the other (still spelled <oi, oy>) to /wɛ/ (which gave way to the formerly stigmatized pronunciation /wa/ in the 19th century.) The two different values are found in <françois> with /ɛ/ as an adjective meaning "French" and with /wɛ/ as a male name. Claude Mauger  (1666) equates the French <oi, oy> when pronounced /ɛ/ with the sound represented by English <ay>. This is not surprising. What is surprising is that he equates the French <oy> /wɛ/ with the sound represented in English by the spelling <oy>. The final vowel in the name François is to be pronounced — if we are to believe Mauger — with (something like) the same vowel heard in the English pronunciation of the word viceroy.

We also find French <moi> equated with a made-up English word spelled moy by Pistol in Henry V. And then there's the following from King Richard II 5.3:

Dutchess
And if I were thy Nurse, thy tongue to teach,
Pardon should be the first word of thy speach.
I neuer long'd to heare a word till now:
Say Pardon, King, let pitty teach thee how.
The word is short: but not so short as sweet,
No word like Pardon, for Kings mouth's so meet.
Duke
Speake it in French, King, say "Pardonne-moy."
Dutchess
Dost thou teach pardon pardon to destroy?
Ah my sowre husband, my hard-hearted Lord,
That set's the word it selfe, against the word.
Speake Pardon, as 'tis currant in our Land,
The chopping French we do not vnderstand.
Thine eye begins to speake, set thy tongue there,
Or in thy pitteous heart, plant thou thine eare,
That hearing how our plaints and prayres do pearce,
Pitty may moue thee, Pardon to rehearse.

Here we have French moi rhyming with destroy (which had /ui/ in Middle English). Crystal's dictionary includes the pronunciation of French words found in the plays, and for moi his entry reads "Fr mwɛ, Eng məɪ" the latter apparently to supply the rhyme with destroy (since for other French words like Roi, doigt, foi, droit, doit, point, demoiselle he lists only /rwɛ, dwɛ, fwɛ, drwɛ, dwɛ, pwɛ̃, dǝmwɛzel/. The only way I can imagine to justify /mǝɪ/ for Fr. moi is as a fossilized survival of the pronunciation of Anglo-Norman <mei>. Otherwise, the only interpretation worth bothering over is that destroy was indeed pronounced something like /dɪstru̯ɛɪ/. Dutch, French and German descriptions of words in the relevant lexical sets throughout the 17th century make it very hard to seriously sustain the idea of a merged TRY/TROY vowel in Shakespeare's lifetime.

***Open your mouth and say <A>***

Often the sources Crystal cites in the introduction to his dictionary don't necessarily mean what he takes them to mean. For example, he cites Sir John Harrington's anecdote about how a gentlewoman mistook the French name Jacques for "Jakes" (the scabrous term for a privy.) Then since Jakes is rhymed with Makes by the same author, the logic goes, the pronunciation must be /dʒɛ:ks/. But this implies certain assumptions about how the vowel in makes is pronounced in the first place. It's not clear, to me anyway, that something more like /dʒæ:ks/ is not to be inferred instead.

(For what it's worth, I do think that /dʒɛ:ks/ and /dʒæ:ks/ could both be heard for some time.)

Many of Crystal's phonological arguments are suspicious. For example, he gives words like war, guard as /wɑ:ɹ, gɑ:ɹd/ with a back-vowel. He then claims that  this vowel
must have been a noticeable feature of OP as Jonson, among others, pays special attention to it, contrasting it with the normal use of a (‘pronounced less than the French à’): ‘when it comes before l, in the end of a syllabe, it obtaineth the full French sound, and is uttered with the mouth and tongue wide opened, the tongue bent back from the teeth’. He gives all, small, salt, calm among his examples.
This is an unacceptably selective reading of Jonson. What Jonson actually says in full is
With us, in most words, is pronounced less than the French à : as in art, act, apple, ancient. But when it comes before L, in the end of a syllabe, it obtaineth the full French sound, and is uttered with the mouth and throat wide opened, the  tongue bent back from the teeth, as in all, small, gall, fall, tall, call.  So in all the syllabes where a consonant followeth the L, as in salt, malt, balm, calm. 
In other words, Jonson appears to hear the words art and apple as both containing the same kind of a-vowel. Furthermore, he finds this kind of a-vowel in art and act is perceptually different from that of all, small etc. Yet Crystal reconstructs the same /ɑ:/ for both small and art, and then gives a different vowel /a/ for words like act. This "OP" is quite clearly not the English that Jonson is describing.

In any case, we have relatively little indication, either from rhymes, foreign descriptions or native orthoepists, that the vowel in art was any lower than that of act until some time after Shakespeare's death.

***Of Marjers and Murjers***

Crystal does something similarly unconvincing with /ɐ:/ for the vowel in bird, mercy, sir.
The open quality of this vowel is heard today in many regional accents, on both sides of the Atlantic, reflected in dialect-writing in such spellings as the exclamatory ‘marcy me . . . !’ The spelling evidence in the Folio is seen in the use of an a in such words as merchant / marchant, sterling / starling, German / Iarman, and rhymes such as serve / carve, stir / war. Phonetically, there is little difference between this quality and that of /ɑ:/ below, but I have kept the transcriptions distinct, to draw attention to the different phonological relationships with their present-day equivalents.
A few things spring to mind. First, I'm not sure that stir/war in Richard II is actually meant as a rhyme. Second, even granting the merger for the sake of argument, why would the result necessarily be /ɐ:/? Just because there are modern English dialects with pre-rhotic /ɐ/ for orthographic "e" does not mean that Elizabethan London English had the same kind of vowel. Cross-linguistically, we know that this kind of lowering before retroflex approximants can produce many different vowels in the vicinity of [a].  "Phonetically, there is little difference between this quality and that of /ɑ:/ below" says Crystal. Yet the sources describe the A-sound even before R as being rather different from whatever the vowel of ball is.

What is more likely, and more supported by both the rhyming practices of the day and the statements of orthoepists, is that the vowel of act and of art was indeed the same vowel. The most straightforward inference is that this vowel was simply /a/ or something fo the kind. When the vowel of serve was allophonically lowered from something like /ɛ/ into the neighborhood of [æ], it tended to near-merger with /a/ when and where the latter in its turn began to shift higher.

Crystal, on the other hand, essentially uses /ɐ:/ to just put his OP through the NURSE-merger. That is, the merger of the vowels in EARTH, DIRT and TURN originally /ɛɹθ dɪɹt tʊɹn/.

This merger had not fully taken place in Shakespeare's lifetime. For long afterward what seems to be described by the sources is a three-way merger, but a merger of the DIRT and TURN vowels, leaving the EARTH vowel distinct. The DIRT and TURN vowels begin to merge during Shakespeare's lifetime. At the same time, though, there is a competing lineage of English, attested more scantily, in which the vowels of EARTH and DIRT merged into /ɛ/ while keeping the sound in TURN distinct. This allowed Shakespeare to interrhyme all three of them. A rhyme fir/fur would work for some speakers, and a rhyme learn/burn would do the same for others. These two merge-patterns seem to have interacted with one another in complex, unsystematic and idiolectal ways for a long time.

A complete NURSE merger also causes rhyme problems. Among other things, it fails to explain why poets of the period quite commonly rhyme the NORTH vowel with the TURN vowel (e.g. return/morn) but not with the EARTH or the DIRT vowels.


***Och, ya cannae drop yer velars sae easily***
"It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so."—Mark Twain
What there isn't evidence for is sometimes every bit as important as what there is evidence for. One example of this in Crystal's OP reconstruction will suffice. He reconstructs an /ɔ:/ for -aught and -ought words like wrought, sought, taught etc. Alright, fair enough. But consider what these words do and don't rhyme with. In Shakespeare, words of this kind only rhyme with each other (caught/thought, daughter/caught her etc.) and with a small handful of other words with a tautosyllabic consonant in the stressed syllable like oft/naught, after/daughter. A single passage in King Lear includes after/daughter/halter/caught her/slaughter as indubitable rhymes with each other. And there is a possible (but not certain) rhyme of slaughter'd/butcher'd in Richard III.  (Crystal gives forms for halter and after in which the F and L are optionally not pronounced. Which is safe enough. But oft cannot be thus explained.) Now, Shakespeare rhymes things like note/pot, smote/not. But never once does he rhyme words like pot or note with -aught/-ought. The vowels /o:/ (which is the vowel of note in Crystal's OP) and /ɒ/ (the vowel of Crystal's pot) are less similar in every way than /o:/ and /ɔ:/. Why does Shakespeare rhyme note/pot without ever once using rhymes of the type caught/note caught/not? Assuming it isn't some freakish coincidence, the best explanation is that Crystal's OP has gotten some crucial feature of the -ught words quite wrong.
A corpus search of poets born before 1600 throws up not a single caught/not rhyme.
Very occasionally, we do find early rhymes like notes/thoughts in a poet like Samuel Daniel, but we also find the -ught words rhymed in in other ways, some of them rather peculiar. We occasionally find fault rhymed with thought, brought (Lady Wroth) and nought (John Davies). Spenser has water/daughter. Drayton has slaughter/laughter, wrought her/laughter (remember that in Shakespeare, laugh is rhymed with things like staff, and cough. We probably have dialect forms here of the same type implied by such early spellings as <dafter> for daughter.) But all this is rare. John Donne, who was no slouch about rough rhymes, has no confirmed instances of crossrhyming -ught with any other type of word. (A poem of doubtful attribution to Donne has fought/out.) For the most part, poets of Shakespeare's generation seem to want to keep the -ught words in their own rhyme class.
There was clearly something about these words that made it hard or undesirable to cross-rhyme them with other types of words. It is possible that the pronunciation of words of this type varied in some quite drastic way among speakers. Some speakers probably still had the velar fricative of Middle English here, while others might have had idiolectally inconsistent realizations of /f/ after historical back-vowels, or no consonant at all. In any case, my suggestion would be that the vowel itself is not yet /ɔ:/ but rather a diphthong of some kind like /au/ or /ɒʊ/. I suspect the diphthong is to be found in most of the other words where Crystal reconstructs /ɔ:/, such as in awful, fault, cause. (If such a vowel existed in the early 1600s at all, it is surprising that John Florio makes no mention of it in his discussion of the Italian close o.)


***Oo look at Luke's yew and his ewe, will you?***

Three more of Crystal's vowels.

/ʊ/ AS IN PUT, LOOK, FOOT, AND ALSO IN FOOL, TOOTH 
This rounded vowel seems to have had the same value as in conservative RP today (though it is now losing its rounding among young people). The only uncertainty is the extent to which it was used as an alternative in words with long [u:]. Rhymes such as tooth and doth, brood and blood, food and flood, and puns such as fool and full show that it was an option in some cases, but whether it should be applied to moon, afternoon, and others is an open question. Rhymes can be suggestive, such as boot / foot, but the direction of the rhyme is often unclear. The dictionary thus shows long and short vowels in these words, with the latter more likely in regional speech, as today.
/u:/ AS IN DO, SHOE, SPOON, NEW, CURE 
This value seems identical with the one we have today in conservative RP accents (younger people tend to lose some of the lip-rounding), though—as noted above—several words that today have /u:/ could be shortened, such as fool. Spellings such as cooz and coosin (‘cousin’) show that oo could represent a short vowel as well as a long one.
The distinction between /u:/ and /ʊ/ (and later /ʌ/) is a vexing problem for anyone trying to reconstruct earlier Englishes because one cannot arrive at earlier forms simply by rewind the sound-changes like an old style cassette tape.
While Crystal is willing to allow for shortened alternatives to modern canonically long vowels (as with /fʊl/ for fool) he for the most part does not allow for longer vowels in words that  today have short /ʊ/. He gives only /ʊ/ for Hook, Look, Book and others. He does give both /ʊ/ and /u:/ as possibilities for Nook. I cannot escape the impression that he is letting the modern state of the language dictate his choices here. The inclusion of words like Look with /ʊ/ is curious. Most words of the -ook type were shortened extremely late, at least a few decades after Shakespeare's death.

The other problem is the inclusion of NEW here. Assuming an early DEW—DUE merger for the English ancestral to Shakespeare's, the vowel of this word was a diphthong /nɪʊ̆/ which was only much later resyllabified to /nju:/. Shakespeare and his contemporaries generally do not interrhyme words with the DEW vowel and words with the DO vowel. At least, they don't do it anymore than they interrhyme things like the HEAL and HEEL vowels.

Crystal also gives us:
/O:/ AS IN GO, SOUL, MOAN, AND ALSO ONE, POWER, POOR 
The important point to note about this vowel is the lack of the diphthongal quality characteristic of RP, where it has a range of values running from [oʊ] to [əʊ] to [ɛʊ]. The pure vowel is widely used in present-day accents, such as those of the Celtic areas, and its frequency in English (in very common words such as go, know, so) makes it a noticeable feature of OP. Rhymes show its use as a variant in words that later would have more open vowels, such as one / throne, none / bone. Several words and prefixes spelled with or or our, shown in this dictionary with /ɔ:/, such as four, more, fore-, for- could also be sounded with a closer variant.
Positing that Shakespeare's English had a merged POOR/POWER vowel is a curious thing indeed. POOR and POWER develop quite differently in later English and, while the POOR vowel can rhyme with the PORE vowel, it cannot (usually) rhyme with the POWER vowel. The word POWER had exactly the vowel you would expect from Middle English /u:/.

It makes all the sense in the world to keep POWER and POOR distinct as vowels.  Although there is a lot of messy interchange between these various lexical sets, a good starting point at the very least would be to posit the etymologically expected /ɔ:r o:r u:r ɔʊr~ǝʊr/ for the vowels of PORT, PORE, POOR, POWER, and move individual words in these lexical sets around (or multiply the variants) based on rhyme and orthoepistic evidence. I am really not sure why Crystal does not reconstruct /ǝʊ(ǝ)r/ for POWER words. It shouldn't be all that difficult for an actor to pronounce.

Granted there are rhymes (From Donne: flower/foure, ambassador/flow're. From William Alabaster: flower/door/more. Note that many of these cases are lexically restricted) that this would satisfy, but a value /ǝʊr~ɔʊr/ would do just fine for these, too. That POOR and POWER had different vowels is attested amply in 16th and 17th century French descriptions of English. Bellot's transcription of  <our> as <aouor> and his description of this sound as having a kind of di- or tri-syllabic effect can't really be squared with Crystal's merged POOR/POWER vowel.

His /o:r/ results in metrical problems. For example:

A tower'd citadel, a pendent rock,...

And in the power of us the tribunes, we,...

Here's a few flowers; but 'bout midnight, more....

Lines like these require a disyllable for scansion. Crystal's /o:r/ doesn't allow for this, and his OP transcriptions use ad hoc schwa insertion to compensate.

***Do I rhyme or do eye-rhyme?***

On the matter of "eye-rhyme" (or rather approximate rhyme) Crystal cites George Puttenham's The Arte of English Poesie where the author rails against inexact rhyming. From this, he infers, that "It is the ear, not the eye, that is the theme of sixteenth-century writers."

"It is the ear, not the eye" indeed. But two points emerge from this. First, the fact that George Puttenham rails against the "fowl faults" of the "bungler" who "falsifies his accent to serue his cadence" actually confirms — as Crystal admits — that inexact rhyme of whatever kind was in use as a poetic strategy and was widespread enough to annoy the likes of Puttenham. (In the earlier half of the sixteenth century, poets like Wyatt employed all manner of approximate rhymes: am/man, sprites/likes, loud/rood etc.) One must not mistake prescription for description.

The second point is that "an agreeing sound in the last silabes" does necessarily imply complete identity of syllable nuclei. The common assumption that inexact rhyme is to be understood primarily as "eye-rhyme" is the result of centuries of print culture. "Eye-rhyme" is beside the point. The question is: how similar do the vowels have to be in order to be acceptable as ear-rhyme? A cross-linguistic and cross-cultural comparison of poetic rhyme traditions throughout the world and history would show that this is not simply a question of phonetic, or even phonological, fact.

I might formulate some impressionistic rules of thumb. The more distinctive vowel contrasts there are in a given language, the more likely it is that different vowels will be cross-rhymed (whether occasionally or as normal practice). The more variation is deemed acceptable and normal among different speakers or listeners, the more likely it is that "compromise" rhymes (which are perfect for some speakers but not all) will be admissible. When and if this stops being true, "correct rhymes" frequently become a matter of tradition, and/or of adherence to a prescribed standard. (Thus the banishment of imperfect rhymes from good literary Dutch after the Rederijkers period.) When the standard itself admits some amount of variability, or is unable to eliminate that variability, phonologically inexact rhymes may be treated as full rhymes. Thus in traditional Italian versification, /ɔ/ and /o/ on the one hand, and /ɛ/ and /e/ on the other, are permitted to interrhyme (otherwise Dante wouldn't be able to enjoy rhyming amore/cuore on a semi-regular basis.) In German, höh/See and über/lieber are not considered inexact rhymes.

Crystal goes on to discuss the cases of inexact rhymes that even his OP can't get rid of and finds that many of them are cases "where the phonetic distinction is so slight that the rhymes might well have been perceived to be identical" and in a footnote says that "most so-called half-rhymes in Shakespeare are in fact differentiated by a single distinctive feature." Well then, suppose that two vowels only differ in prosodic length?

Suppose they are the indeed quite similar but not for all speakers? You can get around problems like Shakespeare's waste/cast by positing an alternative pronunciation /wast/ for waste. But what is one to make of the fact that, whereas Shakespeare rarely uses rhymes of the type chat/gate, poets like Sidney and Donne feel free to use begat/hate, fat/adulterate, placed/cast?

What, on the other hand, is one to make of the fact that in some styles, he seems to want to keep the reflexes of Middle English /a:/ and of Middle English /ai/ distinct as rhymes? In A Lover's Complaint, (where came/aim/tame/maim/exclaim are meant to be rhymed ABABB) he seems to deliberately treat them as if they were separate rhymes in a single stanza. If these were merged in everybody's English in London at that point, then they must have been meant as "eye-rhymes" in some sense, a silent effect to be enjoyed by those familiar with older poetry. If they were still unmerged in the English of at least a few conservative speakers (as Alexander Gil's orthoepic transcriptions would suggest) then another peculiar effect may be implied.

***

To get back to my point, there are lots of ways to interpret often-ambiguous data. But the way Crystal is interpreting it in particular is so peculiar, so at odds with what even the sources he uses seem to think they're hearing (and with the findings of a good many historical phonologists), that it is hard to simply attribute this to a difference of scholarly opinion. Most or all of the questionable parts of Crystal's OP have something in common: they help push the language in a more "modern mainstream" direction than would otherwise be the case. I cannot shake the suspicion that Crystal is trying to manipulate his "OP" phonology into something that won't sound too off-puttingly weird to modern ears. The pre-rhotic vowels of the English varieties spoken in Shakespeare's London didn't behave like they do today. There are still more aspects of the vowel system that seem to have been unlike most modern Englishes, and which Crystal's OP effectively bleeds out in the same manner.

Maybe, just maybe, Shakespeare's English would indeed be a bit "more difficult for an audience to understand than any modern regional accent." But that wouldn't sell tickets, would it? And just what would it take to teach modern actors to reliably pronounce it in a reasonable amount of time? And what good would an OP-movement do if Shakespeare's phonology proved to be less congenial to us than his texts?

But I come to praise Crystal and not just to bury him. First though, some lexical quibbles.

***

PROPOSED ERRATA TO THE OXFORD DICTIONARY OF ORIGINAL SHAKESPEAREAN PRONUNCIATION

For stead, instead: a form /ɪnsti:d/ should be given alongside the more obvious and modern pronunciation.
For verdict: a form without the /k/ should be given. This 18th century form is unlikely to be recent.
For satire: a variant should be given with the same vowel as nature 
For fierce: a form /fɛ:rs/ should be given the same vowel as in pierce
For servile: a form /sɛrvɪl~sǝrvɪl/ with a non-tense vowel in the second syllable.
For inveigle: a variant in /ɪnve:gǝl/ (or in Crystal's transcription /ɪnvi:gǝl/) should be given with the SEA vowel
For evil: alongside the etymologically expected /ɛvɪl/, the form with ME-lengthening /i:vǝl/ (attested from 1580 onward in Bullokar et al.) ancestral to the Modern English pronunciation should also be given.
For nephew: alongside the forms ending in /ju:/ the form /nevi/ should be given. This form, which surfaces in 18th century dictionaries, is a direct continuation of Old English nefa by way of Middle English nevi. 
For edifice, prejudice, benefice, cowardice and similar words, a variant form ending in /ǝɪs/ should probably be given. (Rhymes like edifice/sacrificecowardice/despise and device/prejudice do not occur in Shakespeare, but they do in the work of his contemporaries, including Donne and Elizabeth Cary.)

Crystal's indication of word-stress in those words where the accent has changed since the 16th century is generally good and reliable. Of those that I have checked, he usually gives the original form correctly: revénue, siníster, délectable, útensil, pretéxt, illústrate etc.

The following accentuations, however, should be given but aren't:
— retínue as in "But óther of your ínsolent retínue..." (attested securely through to the 18th century)
— súccessor as in "chalks súccessors their way, nor call'd upon."
— turmóil (n)  as in "and there I'll rest as, after much turmóil."
(Crystal gives the verbal form turmóilèd, but túrmoil for the noun. The sole instance of the noun in Shakespeare suggests turmóil at the very least as a variant. A contrast between túrmoil as a noun and turmóil as a verb is attested from the 18th century on, but matters were earlier different.)

Now then

***

Our funerals are never really for the dead, but the consolation of the living. No matter that the living often believe otherwise as an article of faith. So too, no matter what rituals of literary piety we may perform to preserve the soul of Shakespeare's Tongue in an imagined eternity, a modern performance of Renaissance drama is ultimately not about the Renaissance. Nor should it be. Historical appreciation and literary appreciation are not necessarily the same thing.

Which is why it hardly matters that many of the features of "OP" probably post-date Shakespeare's death by a generation or more, that it turns out to be practically impossible to train an entire cast of Modern English-speaking actors within a reasonable amount of time to reliably reproduce a three-way contrast between peel/peal/pale, or even that so many OP performances continue to employ a typologically implausible phonology with the PEAL/PEEL vowels merged as /e:/, the PALE/PAIL vowels merged as /ɛ:/ yet with no /i:/ phoneme in sight at all.

Crystal's "OP" may be slightly mis-labeled, but it does bring "us" closer to the English of Shakespeare, if not all the way there. It resurrects puns on e.g. hour/whore. It makes a lot of Shakespeare's soundplay more aurally perceptible, if not always using the same phonemes he would have heard around him.

The primary value, justification and interest of the OP movement is not an accurate reproduction of late 16th century London English. Rather, it is the production of a new accent of Modern English that modern actors can be trained to pronounce, and that modern audiences can enjoy associating with Shakespeare. On this score, the modern OP movement has succeeded marvelously.

You may rightly wonder, then, why I don't just chill out and....

Image result for shh let people enjoy things


The answer is: because it's best for OP-proponents to be honest with themselves and others about what Crystalline OP is, and what it isn't, about what it does, what it doesn't do. The fetish of authenticity can only shortchange the accomplishment. Let OP shine for what it really is. You don't need to believe in Santa Clause to enjoy the magic of Christmas. Otherwise, assholes like me will just keep ruining the fun by calling attention to the man behind the curtain.

Now I've said all that, you may well ask: why then do I bother making recordings using reconstructions that aim for high-res accuracy?

Well, shit, why shouldn't I? It is fun and awesome. Do I need any more reason than that?

And, as audience responses suggest, Modern OP is also really fun. In fact, I see no reason why its use should be limited to the staging of Renaissance drama and the reading of Renaissance texts. Why not write new modern works, perhaps set during the Renaissance or reacting to Renaissance literature, to be performed in OP?

Here, let me try.

A Shakespearean Language Sonnet

Now doth my tung with Tyrant Tyme debate
In bloodie sport upon a ruined stage,
To second thy tired tongue, and lash the State
Whose centuries do beseige the famined page.
As ancient blades worne blunt in shocke with ages,
Thy lines which vaunted deathlesse at decay
Do fall with lesser moment in the pages
Turned by the powres which turne the world to-daye,
Unlesse thy voice unto my vice repare
And, steeld afresh, match Time with force which flows
In change unchanging, as this yeares fresh heire
Of last yeares rose still bears the sweet name Rose.
To keepe my word to thee, my wordes I break,
That though the tongue be mine, thy voice yet speake.

Can you spot the wordplay depending on 16th century semantics? How about the wordplay depending on OP? Here's a transcription into Crystalline OP to help:

nǝʊ dǝθ mɪ tɒŋ wɪθ tǝɪrǝnt tǝɪm dɪbɛ:t
ɪn blɤdǝɪ spɔ:ɹt ǝpɒn ǝ ru:ɪnd stɛ:dʒ
tǝ sɛkǝnd ðɪ tǝɪɹd tɒŋ ǝn laʃ ðǝ stɛ:t
u:z sɛntrǝɪz du: bɪsi:dʒ ðǝ famɪnd pɛ:dʒ
ǝz ɔ:nsɪǝnt blɛ:dz wɔ:ɹn blɤnt in ʃɔk wɪð ɛ:dʒǝz
ðɪ lǝɪnz ʍɪtʃ vɔ:ntǝd dɛθlɪs ǝt dɪkɛ:
du: fɑ:l wɪθ lɛsǝɹ mɒmǝnt ɪn ðǝ pɛ:dʒǝz
tɐ:ɹnd bɪ ðǝ po:ɹs ðat tɐ:ɹn ðǝ wɒɹld tǝdɛ:
ɤnlɛs ðɪ vǝɪs ɤntu mɪ vǝɪs rɪpɛ:ɹ
ǝn sti:ld afrɛʃ matʃ tǝɪm wɪθ fo:ɹs ʍɪtʃ flo:z
ɪn tʃɛ:ndʒ ɤntʃɛ:ndʒɪn ǝz ðɪs ji:ɹz frɛʃ ɛ:ɹ
ǝ last ji:ɹz ro:z stɪl bɛ:ɹz ðǝ swi:t nɛ:m ro:z.
tǝ ki:p mɪ wɔ:ɹd tǝ ði:, mɪ wɔ:ɹds ǝɪ brɛ:k
ðat ðo: ðǝ tɒŋ bɪ mǝɪn, ðǝɪ vǝɪs jɪt spɛ:k

2 comments:

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  2. Thank you for not sparing us the minute details!

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