Voices of Earlier English: John Donne's Will

The Will
John Donne

Before I sigh my last gaspe, let me breath,
Great love, some Legacies; here I bequeath
Mine eyes to Argus, if mine eyes can see;
If they be blinde, then, Love, I give them thee;
My tongue to Fame; t'Embassadours mine eares,
To women or the sea, my teares;
Thou, Love, hast taught mee heretofore
By making mee serve her who'd twenty more,
That I should give to none but such as had too much before.

My constancie I to the planets give,
My truth to them who at the Court doe live;
Mine ingenuity and opennesse,
To Jesuites, to buffones my pensivenesse;
My silence t'any who abroad hath beene,
My mony to a Capuchin.
Thou, Love, taught'st me, by appointing mee
To love there where no love receiv'd can be,
Onely to give to such as have an incapacitie.

My faith I give to Roman Catholiques,
All my good works unto the Schismaticks
Of Amsterdam; my best civility
And Courtship to an Universitie;
My modesty I give to souldiers bare;
My patience let gamesters share.
Thou, Love, taughtst mee, by making mee
Love her that holds my love disparity,
Onely to give to those that count my gifts indignity.

I give my reputation to those
Which were my friends, mine industrie to foes;
To Schoolemen I bequeath my doubtfulnesse,
My sicknesse to Physitians (or excesse);
To Nature, all that I in Ryme have writ,
And to my company my wit.
Thou, Love, by making mee adore
Her who begot this love in mee before,
Taughtst me to make as though I gave when I did but restore.

To him for whom the passing bell next tolls,
I give my physick bookes; my writen rowles
Of morall counsels I to Bedlam give,
My brazen medals unto them which live
In want of bread, to them which passe among
All forrainers, mine English tongue.
Thou, Love, by making mee love one
Who thinkes her friendship a fit portion
For yonger lovers dost my gifts thus disproportion.

Therefore I'll give no more; but I'll undoe
The world by dying; because love dies too.
Then all your beauties will bee no more worth
Then gold in mines where none doth draw it forth,
And all your graces no more use shall have
Then a sun-dyall in a grave.
Thou, Love, taughtst mee, by making mee
Love her who doth neglect both mee and thee,
T'invent, and practise this one way, t'annihilate all three.


10: planets: so named because in the Ptolemaic system they appeared at times to be in backward orbits. (Fun fact: Donne was born and died within Galileo's lifetime.)

11: Courtiers, like modern politicians or the Church of Scientology, often found it expedient to be economical with the truth.

12: ingenuity: ingenuousness; unvarnished honesty.

13: Jesuits: were in Protestant England portrayed as masters of wiliness, secret plots, and half-truth telling.

14: You know the kind, right? People who have just gotten back from abroad and can't bring themselves shut up about how they've been to a foreign country.

15: Capuchin: Franciscan Friar Minor who has taken a vow of poverty. Leaving your money to a Capuchin is a bit like leaving your bacon cheeseburger to a Haredi Rabbi.

19-20: i.e. I leave my religion for Catholics to convert to, and I give my good works to the Protestant separatists and extremists who prefer to live in the Low Countries (the "sola fide" types who don't think good works are required for salvation.)

21: Civility: urbanity. Courtship: people skills, social awareness. Academics were seen as buried in their special recondite learnings, and at the same time boorish, awkward, unversed in the ways of what is known even on campuses today as "the real world."

26: Disparity: incongruity, overambition, presumption.

30: Doubtfulness: constant questioning of the kind cultivated at university disputations, controversialism.

39: Bedlam: Bethlehem Hospital, where the mentally ill were not only confined but often displayed as entertainment for profit.

42: English tongue — the English language in the late 16th century was a bit like Hungarian in the early 21st, in that nobody outside the country had much practical reason to learn the language, and very few did. Why would you need English when anybody in England of real importance would know French and/or Latin? As John Florio put it "What think you of this English tongue?.....It is a language that will do you good in England but, pass Dover, it is worth nothing."

Written On Somebody's Paper Napkin

Mad paper, go, and on the firewood burn
Spew these rough lines out in a cough of smoke.
I've had enough of you. We can't return
To this. Destruction is the masterstroke.

As ink turns ash, and words turn not a thing,
Affirm what blowhard poets liked to doubt:
That like this earth all supple sonneting
Won't mean one damn when all the lights go out.

Ask in a violet flame like burning fat:
Can lines gleam in a detonated sun?
Or poets claim immortal this or that
When all the cosmos is a shining gun?
Can you believe yourself in shrieking "But
It's enough to have once been"? I am done.

Voices of Earlier English: Milton's Special Pleading

T[his] poem invites readers to imagine that the poet pins this sonnet to his door to protect his property during a military attack. Milton, like most of London in 1642, probably did expect the King's forces to attack the city. Milton therefore frames the poem as a plea for special protection for poets in time of war. In its gesture, the poem alludes to Alexander the Great, who is said to have spared the house of the poet Pindar during his invasion of Thebes. 
— Luxon, Thomas H., ed. The Milton Reading Room
This seems like a good one to illustrate the sound effects of 17th century English poetry that may be rendered inaudible in modern accents.

First, an audio recording in a reconstruction of a somewhat conservative early-to-mid 17th century London accent:

On his Doore When the Citty expected an assault (written ca. 1642)
John Milton (b. 1608)

Captain or Colonel, or Knight in Arms,
Whose chance on these defenceless dores may sease,
If ever deed of honour did thee please,
Guard them, and him within protect from harms,

He can requite thee, for he knows the charms
That call Fame on such gentle acts as these,
And he can spred thy Name o're Lands and Seas,
What ever clime the Suns bright circle warms.

Lift not thy spear against the Muses' Bowre,
The great Emathian Conqueror bid spare
The house of Pindarus when Temple and Towre

Went to the ground: and the repeated air
Of sad Electra's Poet had the power
To save th' Athenian Walls from ruine bare.


L1: This line nicely illustrates the problem, or at least the limitation, of using a reconstruction as a basis for phonaesthetic literary judgments. It is quite impossible to know what sound the <kn> of <knight> would have corresponded to in Milton's own reading voice. He may have pronounced it as [kʰn]. He could equally have had some other realization such as [tʰn], [n̥n] or simply [n̥]. Milton's work tell us nothing of his speech, and the only (flimsy) clue is that rhymes of the type sea/away, seat/meet (which are plentiful among many of his contemporaries) are conspicuous by their total absence in his work. His target speech may have been conservative in its vowel inventory, and the possibility exists that <kn> was still [kʰn] in his English, as it apparently was in the speech of his old teacher Alexander Gil (who did leave behind considerable documentation of his English.) Assuming for my purposes that Milton's English, or at least his target English, contained [kʰn], this line would contain a triple alliteration: captain/colonel/knight, reinforced by the vowel of the first and last syllables. 
Both captain and arms likely contained the same stressed vowel. 
If read in any modern standard accent, not only is the alliteration reduced and the vocalic bracketing obliterated, but the loss of the medial syllable in colonel alters the rhythm and makes it impossible to even scan the line as a pentameter. Then again, the speech a great many of Milton's contemporaries would also produce only a two-way alliteration. 

L2: Chance, again, could have the same vowel as arms, and echoes the previous line.

L4: Possible wordplay on the rhymewords arms/harms which might be pronounced as homophones even in educated speech. (Dropping of initial /h/ was not stigmatized at all before the 1750s, and did not become a provincial stereotype until the 1800s.)

L5: Another possible triple /k/ alliteration: can/requite/know. Here can and charms reinforce each other vocalically, echoing the effect of arms and captain in L1. So too does requite echo knight. The <kn> sound was rare, and relatively few English words had it. Its relative salience suggests a callback from Knows the charms to knight in arms. The whole auditory motif of L1 is recapitulated here, marking the beginning of the octave's second half.

L8: Warms is a perfect rhyme here. A more innovative "modern" variant with a lower and more rounded vowel also existed (and is in fact first attested by a phoneticist two years before the composition of this poem.)

L9-10: Spear/spare. In the (relatively innovative) pronunciation of Early Modern English I use in my recording, these are homophones. They may not have been in Milton's target English. Milton does not interrhyme the reflex of Middle English /air a:r/ with words from Middle English /ɛ:r/, and treats e.g. fair/dear/are/near as rhyming ABAB. Wordplay involving the two need not depend on complete homophony, of course. It might have been contrastive, rather like the pun in the film title Meet the Fockers does not depend for its effect on identity of Modern English /ɒ ʌ/. 

L10: The two words great and Emathian are more tightly linked than in modern accents, as the <th> in the latter was likely pronounced /t/ as in Thomas. It is hard to say what the value of the stressed vowel in Emathian was, assuming that a learn'd word like this necessarily had a single stable pronunciation in the first place. It's a toss-up between /æ/ and /ɛ:/. Given that the word Emathia has such strong Latinate associations, in the absence of other clues, it seems a plausible assumption that Milton might have used whatever pronunciation of this word was current in his Latin. In the contemporaneous English pronunciation of Latin, it seems that <a> in stressed antepenultimate syllables was normally "tense" when the following two syllables had vowels in hiatus. This would favor /ɛ:/. I thus choose /ɛ:/ in much the way Ash Ketchum chooses Pikachu.

L14: As in Emathian the <th> in Athenian was probably still /t/. The stressed /e:/ and (presumed) /ɛ:/ of Great Emathian are echoed (in reverse) with Save th'Athenian. Possible wordplay on ruin/rueing.  

Voices of Earlier English: Michael Drayton's Lunacy

Me reading in a reconstruction of London English ca. 1600

Me reading in the modern accent I originally learned English in

On His Lunacy
Michael Drayton

As other men, so I my selfe do muse
Why in this sorte I wrest invention so,
And why these giddy metaphors I use,
Leaving the path the greater part doe goe.
I will resolve you: I am lunaticke,
And ever this in mad-men you shall finde,
What they last thought of when the braine grew sicke
In most distraction they keepe that in minde.
Thus talking idely in this bedlam fit,
Reason and I (you must conceave) are twaine;
Tis nine yeeres now since first I lost my wit;
Beare with me then, though troubled be my braine.
    With diet and correction men distraught
    (Not too farre past) may to their wits be brought.

Voices of Earlier English: Mark Twain on Party Unity

An attempted impersonation of what Mark Twain's reading voice may have sounded like. Notable features of northern area of Missouri along the Mississippi river in the 19th century include the merry—Murray merger, an early tendency to push cardinal /æ/ even farther front, some distinctive vowel reduction processes, and some variable rhoticity.

I met a certain other clergyman on the corner the day after the nomination. He was very uncompromising. He said: "I know Blaine to the core; I have known him from boyhood up; and I know him to be utterly unprincipled and unscrupulous. Within six weeks after that, this clergyman was at a Republican mass meeting in the Opera House, and I think he presided. At any rate, he made a speech. If you did not know that the character depicted in it meant Mr. Blaine, you would suppose it meant — well, there isn't anybody down here on the earth that you can use as a comparison. It is praise, praise, praise; laudation, laudation, laudation; glorification, glorification, canonization. Conceive of the general crash and upheaval and ripping and tearing and readjustment of things that must have been going on in that man's moral and mental chaos for six weeks! What is any combination of inflammatory rheumatism and St. Vitus's dance to this? When the doctrine of allegiance to party can utterly up-end a man's moral constitution and make a temporary fool of him besides, what excuse are you going to offer for preaching it, teaching it, extending it, perpetuating it? Shall you say, the best good of the country demands allegiance to party ? Shall you also say it demands that a man kick his truth and his conscience into the gutter, and become a mouthing lunatic, besides?
— From "Consistency", read at the Hartford Monday Evening Club on 5 December 1887.

Voices of Earlier English: Sir John Davies Swears By Cock

A Lover Speaks By Cock
Sir John Davies (b. 1569)

Faith, wench, I cannot court thy sprightly eyes,
With the base Viall placed betweene my Thighes
I cannot lispe, nor to some Fiddle sing,
Nor run uppon a high strecht Minikin.
I cannot whine in puling Elegies,
Intombing Cupid with sad obsequies.
I am not fashioned for these amorous times,
To court thy beutie with lascivious rimes.
I cannot dally, caper, daunce and sing,
Oyling my saint with supple sonneting.
I cannot crosse my armes, or sigh ay me,
Ay me Forlorne: egregious Fopperie.
I cannot busse thy fist, play with thy hayre,
Swearing by Jove, Thou art most debonaire.
 Not I by Cock, but shall I tel thee roundly,
Harke in thine eare, zounds I can fuck thee soundly.

2 base viall] Bass viol; bass vial; base vile
4 Minikin] treble string of a viol; sweetheart
10 Oyling] flattering
11 Crosse my arms] stereotyped pose of whiny-ass lovers
13 buss] to oh-so-politely kiss
15 by Cock] common minced form of "by God." But the vulgar sense of "penis" existed then as well. 

Voices of Earlier English: Chidiock Tichborn Faces Death in Prose and Verse

The Catholic Chidiock Tichborn (/tʃɪdɪk tɪtʃbɔɹn/) was free to practice his religion for part of his early life after the succession of Elizabeth I. But in 1570, the Queen was excommunicated by the Pope, and she in turn took it out on Catholics. Catholicism was criminalized once again England. In 1583, Tichborn and his father were arrested and questioned about the "popish relics"  Tichborn had brought back from abroad without informing the authorities. Though released without charge this time, three years later accusations of "popish practices" were again laid against the family. That same year, Tichborn joined the Babington plot to to assassinate Elizabeth and replace her with the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots. When the plot was foiled, most of the other conspirators fled on foot, but Tichborn had an injured leg and was forced to remain in London. On August 14th he was arrested, and later tried and sentenced to death in Westminster Hall. While in custody in the Tower on Sept 19th, Tichborn wrote a letter to his wife Agnes, containing his most famous poem. The following day Tichborn was executed with six other conspirators. On a specially erected scaffold in St. Giles’ Field, he was hanged to the point of near-death and then disemboweled alive. 

In a speech delivered from the scaffold, Tichborn claimed to have been a pawn, a low-level patsy who fell in with the wrong crowd and got in over his head. This is not entirely unbelievable, since the conspiracy itself went to the highest levels, with encrypted messages passed between Sir Anthony Babington and Mary, Queen of Scots, which were intercepted by by Robert Poley, a double agent working for the Elizabeth's secretary and spy-handler Francis Walsingham. 

 Tichborn was likely no older than 23 years old at the time, and possibly a good deal younger. 

Chidiock Tychbornes Elegie, written with his owne hand in the Tower before his execution

My prime of youth is but a frost of cares,
My feast of joy is but a dish of paine,
My Crop of corne is but a field of tares,
And al my good is but vaine hope of gaine.
The day is past, and yet I saw no sunne,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

My tale was heard, and yet it was not told,
My fruite is falne, & yet my leaves are greene:
My youth is spent, and yet I am not old,
I saw the world, and yet I was not seene.
My thred is cut, and yet it is not spunne,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

I sought my death, and found it in my wombe,
I lookt for life, and saw it was a shade:
I trod the earth, and knew it was my Tombe,
And now I die, and now I was but made.
My glasse is full, and now my glasse is runne,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

2 dish] a meal
3 tares] weeds
4 good] wealth, holdings
7 told] i.e. told to completion
8 womb] here meaning "guts" a reference to the manner of his execution. (Cf. Nicolas Grimald "so plaines Prometh his womb no time to faile", Spenser "in his wombe might lurke some hidden nest of many dragonettes, his fruitful feed.) Also perhaps a reference to his birth as a Catholic.

Tichborn's speech from the scaffold:

Countrymen and my dear Friends, you expect I should speak something; I am a bad Orator, and my text is worse: It were in vain to enter into the discourse of the whole matter for which I am brought hither, for that it hath been revealed heretofore, and is well known to the most of this company; let me be a warning to all young gentlemen, especially generosis adolescentulis. I had a friend, and a dear friend, of whom I made no small account, whose friendship hath brought me to this; he told me the whole matter, I cannot deny, as they had laid it down to be done; but I always thought it impious, and denied to be a dealer in it; but the regard of my friend caused me to be a man in whom the old proverb was verified; I was silent, and so consented. Before this thing chanced, we lived together in most flourishing estate; of whom went report in the Strand, Fleet street, and elsewhere about London,
but of Babington and Titchbone? No threshold was of force to brave our entry. Thus we lived, and wanted nothing we could wish for; and God knows, what less in my head than matters of State? Now give me leave to declare the miseries I sustained after I was acquainted with the action, wherein I may justly compare my estate to that of Adam’s, who could not abstain one thing forbidden, to enjoy all other things the world could afford; the terror of conscience awaited me.
After I consider’d the dangers whereinto I was fallen, I went to Sir John Peters, in Essex, and appointed my horses should meet me at London, intending to go down into the country. I came to London, and there heard that all was bewrayed; whereupon, like Adam, we fled into the woods to hide ourselves, and there were apprehended. My dear countrymen, my sorrows may be your joy, yet mix your smiles with tears, and pity my case.

Voices of Earlier English: Ben Jonson Buries his Son

Ben Jonson's son died in the London plague epidemic of 1603.

On My First Sonne
Ben Jonson

Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy;
My sinne was too much hope of thee, lov’d boy,
Seven yeeres thou’wert lent to me, and I thee pay,
Exacted by thy fate, on the just day.
O, could I loose all father, now. For why
Will man lament the fate he should envie?
To have so soone scap’d worlds, and fleshes rage,
And, if no other miserie, yet age?
Rest in soft peace, and, ask’d, say: here doth lye
BEN JONSON his best piece of poetrie.
For whose sake, hence-forth, all his vowes be such,
As what he loves may never like too much.

Child of my right hand] the Hebrew name "Benjamin" traditionally translates as "Right Hand's Son" i.e. the fortunate side. (The original sense in the Bible was probably "Son of the South").

5 Lose all father] lose all fatherliness.

9-10 doth lie...Ben Jonson his...poetry] Both father and son were named Ben Jonson. The syntax of this sentence is ambiguous to good effect. The beauty is that it is unclear just who is doing the lying, or laying, of what.

12] i.e. "His vows be that he will never again like too much anything that he loves." The verb like is probably to be understood in the sense of French plaire, Spanish gustar or Russian нравитьсяWith the arguments being the reverse of the modern verb. The subject is that which pleases and the object is the one who is pleased. Cf. "It likes me much better when I find virtue in a fair lodging" (Sidney) or "His countenance likes me not" (King Lear). It could be read in the modern sense, too, with the subject of "like" left unexpressed. Both the newer ("I like pizza") and the older ("Pizza liketh me") types co-existed in the English of Ben Jonson's time.

Voices of Earlier English: Milton's Paradise Lost

Because Milton is fun. And because Paradise Lost in particular is still too often treated as if it were meant only for the eye.

Read in a moderately conservative elite London accent ca. mid 1600s.

Of Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal tast
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat,
Sing Heav'nly Muse, that on the secret top
Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire
That Shepherd, who first taught the chosen Seed,
In the Beginning how the Heav'ns and Earth
Rose out of Chaos: or if Sion Hill
Delight thee more, and Siloa's brook that flow'd
Fast by the Oracle of God; I thence
Invoke thy aid to my adventrous Song,
That with no middle flight intends to soar
Above th' Aonian Mount, while it pursues
Things unattempted yet in Prose or Rhime.
And chiefly Thou, O Spirit, that dost prefer
Before all Temples th' upright heart and pure,
Instruct me, for Thou know'st; Thou from the first
Wast present, and with mighty wings outspread
Dove-like satst brooding on the vast Abyss
And mad'st it pregnant: What in me is dark
Illumin, what is low raise and support;
That to the highth of this great Argument
I may assert Eternal Providence,
And justifie the wayes of God to men. 

Voices of Earlier English: William Harrison on Why Foreigners Can't Learn English

The English language in the 16th century was a bit like Icelandic or Danish in the early 21st, in that very few people outside the British Isles had much practical reason to learn the language, and of those foreigners who bothered trying, fewer still ever really learned it well. Why, after all, would you need English when anybody in England of real importance would know French and/or Latin? As John Florio put it "What think you of this English tongue?.....It is a language that will do you good in England but, pass Dover, it is worth nothing." John Donne, in The Will (written sometime in the 1590s) says "I...give...to them which passe among/ all forrainers, mine English tongue." i.e. nobody on the continent will speak any English to you, so why don't you take my English with you for the road. 

William Harrison (b. 1534) in this passage from his Description of England (1577) describes how adept Anglophones are at learning other languages, whereas foreigners seldom manage to learn to speak good English. To Harrison, the reason why is obvious: English is just harder than other languages, whereas if you speak English that naturally makes it easier to learn other languages. Hard to disagree, no? English could never replace Latin and French as a lingua franca. The very idea is absolutely silly. 

I think of this passage in Harrison whenever I hear people spewing asininities about how English is just a really easy language to pick up (with "not a lot of grammar") and is therefore a natural choice as the world's lingua franca.

This also is proper to us Englishmen, that sith ours is a meane language, & neither too rough nor too smooth in utterance, we may with much facilitie learne any other language, beside Hebrue, Greeke & Latine, and speake it naturallie, as if we were home-borne in those countries; & yet on the other side it falleth out, I wot not by what other meanes, that few forren nations can rightlie pronounce ours, without some and that great note of imperfection, especiallie the French men, who also seldome write any thing that savoreth of English trulie. 
It is a pastime to read how Natalis Comes in like maner, speaking of our  affaires, dooth clip the names of our English lords. But this of all the rest dooth breed most admiration with me, that if any stranger doo hit upon some likelie pronuntiation of our toong, yet in age he swarveth so much from the same, that he is woorse therein than ever he was, and thereto peradventure halteth not a litle also in his owne, as I have seene by experience in Reginald Wolfe, and other, whereof I have justlie marvelled.

In my reading I have opted for an extremely conservative cultivated pronunciation of the kind that might be more befitting of Serious Matters. I introduce distinctions that only a minority of speakers at the time would produce. Write /wreɪt/ and right /riçt~reɪt/ are not yet homophones (Harrison's would have been the last generation to pronounce the W in write, judging by its disappearance from phonetic descriptions after John Hart.) A significant raising of historical /a: ɛ:/ in all contexts (except pre-rhotically) would still have been still a minority pronunciation, and probably current more among speakers a good deal younger than Harrison. Words like of, is, was, thus, us, this, has, with, as well as morphemes like -ous are still subject to voicing assimilation: [ɔf, ɪs, was, ðʊs, ʊs, ðɪs, has, wɪθ] before voiceless consonants and in pausal position, and [ɔv, ɪz, waz, ðʊz, ʊz, ðɪz, haz, wɪð] before vowels and voiced consonants. (In later English, most of these lost their assimilatory alterations, and one or another of the two forms was fossilized. The voiceless variant survives in modern thus, us, this, and the voiced variant in is, was, has.) 

Original Poem: Survivor

They suffered through the winter months, with food
denied them like hot fire. They could not leave
the treeline for the firing-line. To live
they walked the woods as young men chained to blood
of comrades dying when they had survived.
Only their feet still spoke with blood through snow.
Only the bullet still knew where to go
when the war ended and the spring arrived
great as justice from a sick deity.
It was enough for Viktor to go down
the road from the human town toward the town
where he had left the thing he used to be
and get himself the lasting answer. No
only the bullet still knew where to go.

Letter to John Donne

I've often wondered why people don't talk more about the artistic and aesthetic potential of phonological reconstructions.

Here is an audio recording of me reading the poem as it is meant to be read

Letter to John Donne, Rhymed after his Speech

Like as a particle of matter, floating
Light to the eye, stings it to'a sudden tear
Till handes consoling rubbe away the nothing,
And bid the lid reopen double-cleare
Soe doest thou'with mee. Specke my sight. Canker all
The gilt worldes tinsel in the corrosive
That's thy mindes substance, as, gods wounds, I grieve
Thy thralldome to things insubstantiall.
Such many-person'd gods thy numbers batter
By human bettering, yet know'st thou not that,
As thou know'st not what planets wander after,
That worldes like wordes bee not but they rotate.
Pricke this pupil. O'er dull sublunary wits
Who still plucke fortunes from the starres and moone,
Thou cut'st conceites, rip'st courtesie's carkanets
With art, for Donne thou art. And that's how'ts done.

Voices of Earlier English: Edmund Waller's Voice on Earlier English

Though quite popular in the 17th and 18th centuries, Edmund Waller's poetry is little read today. I could not resist including this poem of his (published in 1668, but written perhaps a decade earlier) in a series about historical Englishes, with a recording in a reconstructed accent, in an era when English has become the world's lingua franca and Latin is known only to a nerdy antiquarian few. Ironic on so many levels within levels. Like an irony matryoshka doll.

Of English Verse
Edmund Waller

    Poets may boast as safely-vain
Their work shall with the world remain;
Both bound together, live, or die,
The Verses and the Prophecy.

    But who can hope his Lines shou'd long
Last in a daily-changing Tongue?
While they are new, Envy prevails,
And as that dies, our Language fails.

    When Architects have done their part,
The Matter may betray their Art;
Time, if we use ill-chosen Stone,
Soon brings a well-built Palace down.

    Poets that lasting Marble seek,
Must carve in Latine or in Greek;
We write in Sand; our Language grows,
And like the Tide our work o'reflows.

    Chaucer his Sense can only boast,
The glory of his Numbers lost,
Years have defac'd his matchless strain;
And yet he did not sing in vain;

    The Beauties which adorn'd that Age,
The shining Subjects of his Rage,
Hoping they shou'd Immortal prove,
Rewarded with success his Love.

    This was the generous Poet's scope,
And all an English pen can hope
To make the Fair approve his Flame,
That can so far extend their Fame.

    Verse thus design'd has no ill Fate,
If it arrive but at the Date
Of fading Beauty, if it prove
But as long-liv'd as present Love.

Voices of Earlier English: A reading from the King James Bible

A reading from the King James Bible, published in 1611

Song of Songs 2

1 I Am the rose of Sharon, and the lillie of the valleys.
2 As the lillie among thornes, so is my love among the daughters.
3 As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sonnes. I sate downe under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweete to my taste.
4 Hee brought me to the banketting house, and his banner over mee, was love.
5 Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples, for I am sicke of love.
6 His left hand is under my head, and his right hand doeth imbrace me.
7 I charge you, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, by the Roes, and by the hindes of the field, that ye stirre not up, nor awake my love, till she please.
8 The voice of my beloved! behold! hee commeth leaping upon the mountaines, skipping upon the hils.
9 My beloved is like a Roe, or a yong Hart: behold, he standeth behind our wall, he looketh foorth at the windowe, shewing himselfe through the lattesse.
10 My beloved spake, and said unto me, Rise up, my Love, my faire one, and come away.
11 For loe, the winter is past, the raine is over, and gone.
12 The flowers appeare on the earth, the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.
13 The fig tree putteth foorth her greene figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell. Arise, my love, my faire one, and come away.
14 O my dove! that art in the clefts of the rocke, in the secret places of the staires: let me see thy countenance, let me heare thy voice, for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely.
15 Take us the foxes, the litle foxes, that spoile the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.
16 My beloved is mine, and I am his: he feedeth among the lillies.
17 Untill the day breake, and the shadowes flee away: turne my beloved and be thou like a Roe, or a yong Hart, upon the mountaines of Bether.

Voices of Earlier English: Selections from Shakespeare's Sonnets


When I consider every thing that growes
Holds in perfection but a little moment.
That this huge stage presenteth nought but showes
Whereon the Stars in secret influence comment,
When I perceive that men as plants increase,
Cheared and checkt even by the selfe-same skie:
Vaunt in their youthfull sap, at height decrease,
And weare their brave state out of memory,
Then the conceit of this inconstant stay,
Sets you most rich in youth before my sight,
Where wastfull time debateth with decay
To change your day of youth to sullied night,
And all in war with Time for love of you
As he takes from you, I ingraft you new.

1 moment] this word has been greatly semantically narrowed in modern English. One should read here tones not merely of temporality, but also of power, import, direction and force of movement. The etymological siblings momentum, momentous and even movement give some of the flavor.
3 presenteth nought but shows] a play of polysemy. The phrase on its own suggests "displays nothing beyond what is apparent" where "but" at the time could take the force of modern "except that which". Shows of course here are more directly metaphorical performances. The idea that "all the world's a stage" for all that Shakespeare is given singular credit for it, was a commonplace of the Renaissance with long standing.
5 Increase] mostly the denotative meaning of the verb has remained the same. But literary use in poetry of the period "increase" connotations of growth and flourishing, as well as of reproduction (c.f. "from fairest creatures we desire increase")
6 cheered] "encouraged, given confidence, heartened, urged on" checked "slowed, detained" (c.f. "sap check'd with frost")
7 vaunt] when intransitive this verb meant both "brag, boast, make a show of oneself" and "exult, rejoice in triumph."
8 brave] "superior, splendid, excellent" (c.f. Francis Bacon "Iron is a brave commodity where wood aboundeth." Shakespeare was, however, given to punning on this word with the still-present meaning of courage e.g. "Wear my dagger with the braver grace.")
State] "condition".
Wear] to be understood in both the sense of being clothed, and wearing away.
9 Conceit] "perception, poetic figment"
11 Wasteful] "ruinous" as well as "excessive."
Debateth] a word of great polysemy in the English of the time which has been semantically narrowed in centuries since. It did have the meaning of "disagreement, argument" but not necessarily in a formalized or public way. Other meanings that have since been more totally lost from the word include: "Discussion, speak about" in a more dialectic sense and also "engage in physical combat" especially in the sense of resolving a disputed matter via trial by combat.
14 ingraft] this is a loaded term. The general shape of the meaning is: to insert either an idea or an object, into someone or something else so that it grows as part of the mind or body it is inserted into. It has overtones in its usage not only of the grafting of horticulture, but also of "implanting" ideas into the mind of another. There is clear play on the alternate adjectival meaning of "deeply-rooted, engrained" (also spelled engraffed in this sense in our orthographically regularized editions c.f. King Lear "the imperfections of long-engraffed condition.")


Devouring time blunt thou the Lyons pawes,
And make the earth devoure her owne sweet brood,
Plucke the keene teeth from the fierce Tygers jawes,
And burne the long liv’d Phœnix in her blood,
Make glad and sorry seasons as thou fleet’st,
And do what ere thou wilt swift-footed time
To the wide world and all her fading sweets:
But I forbid thee one most hainous crime,
O carve not with thy howers my loves faire brow,
Nor draw noe lines there with thine antique pen,
Him in thy course untainted doe allow,
For beauties patterne to succeding men.
Yet doe thy worst ould Time dispight thy wrong,
My love shall in my verse ever live young.

7 sweets] pleasures, nice things
10 antique pen] an old pen, but also one that is gaudy and has awful taste


Why didst thou promise such a beautious day,
And make me travaile forth without my cloake,
To let bace cloudes ore-take me in my way,
Hiding thy brav’ry in their rotten smoke.
Tis not enough that through the cloude thou breake,
To dry the raine on my storme-beaten face,
For no man well of such a salve can speake,
That heales the wound, and cures not the disgrace:
Nor can thy shame give phisicke to my griefe,
Though thou repent, yet I have still the losse,
Th’offenders sorrow lends but weake reliefe
To him that beares the strong offenses losse.
Ah but those teares are pearle which thy love sheeds,
And they are ritch, and ransome all ill deeds.

2 travail] both travail and travel are implied here. The two words' spellings are interchangeable in Elizabethan orthography and were at the time homophonous. 
4 bravery] i.e. splendor, outward beauty
8 heals the wound] there is a possible pun here. For some speakers in Shakespeare's London, heals would have sounded identical to ails.


Let me not to the marriage of true mindes
Admit impediments, love is not love
Which alters when it alteration findes,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no, it is an ever fixed marke
That lookes on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandring barke,
Whose worths unknowne, although his higth be taken.
Lov's not Times foole, though rosie lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickles compasse come,
Love alters not with his breefe houres and weekes,
But beares it out even to the edge of doome:
   If this be error and upon me proved,
   I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

4 alters...finds] love that is changed when the beloved changes (i.e. ages) is not true love
bends with...remove] to change one's state when one's beloved is gone
5 mark] shipping beacon 
8 whose worth's unknown] whose nature and substance (and also value) is beyond human comprehension. 
his height be taken] its altitude is scientifically or mathematically calculated. "To take height" was a normal technical term in astronomy and navigation. 
9 Time's fool] something for Time to laugh at, as a king would laugh at the fool at court. 
12 to the edge of doom] until Doomsday. i.e. not "til death do us part" but till the end of the world. 
13 upon me proved] proved against me. This is the language of legal challenge.   


My mistres eyes are nothing like the Sunne,
Currall is farre more red, then her lips red,
If snow be white, why then her brests are dun:
If haires be wiers, black wiers grow on her head:
I have seene Roses damaskt, red and white,
But no such Roses see I in her cheekes,
And in some perfumes is there more delight,
Then in the breath that from my Mistres reekes.
I love to heare her speake, yet well I know,
That Musicke hath a farre more pleasing sound:
I graunt I never saw a goddesse goe,
My Mistres when shee walkes treads on the ground.
And yet by heaven I thinke my love as rare,
As any she beli’d with false compare.

Philological notes:

Raising of ME /ɛ:/ (PEAL) to /e:/ without fully raising ME /ɔ:/ (POLE) to /o:/ (I have the vowel occasionally pushing up toward /o̞:/ as a possible transitional step.) A lopsided system of this type is strongly implied by John Florio's Italian-English dictionary of 1611. 

ME /a:/ (PALE) realized as unstable /æ:~ɛ:/, partially merged with the reflex of ME /ai/ (PAIL).

I have the MOUND and MIND vowels realized as /ɔʊ/ and /ɛɪ/ following Roger Lass, Jespersen and Wolfe, all of whom make a strong case that these diphthongs had not yet centralized to /ǝʊ bǝɪ/. Others argue, usually on theoretical grounds, for a much earlier /ǝʊ ǝɪ/.

Voices of Earlier English: John Milton wants some holy payback

In 1655, 2000 Waldensians were massacred (and another 2000 forcibly converted to Catholicism) in Piedmont by the Catholic troops of Charles Emmanuel II.

Conservative elite London accent ca. mid 1600s.

On the Late Massachre in Piemont
John Milton

Avenge O Lord thy slaughter'd Saints, whose bones
  Lie scatter'd on the Alpine mountains cold,
  Ev'n them who kept thy truth so pure of old
  When all our Fathers worship't Stocks and Stones,
Forget not: in thy book record their groanes
  Who were thy Sheep and in their antient Fold
  Slayn by the bloody Piemontese that roll'd
  Mother with Infant down the Rocks. Their moans
The Vales redoubl'd to the Hills, and they
  To Heav'n. Their martyr'd blood and ashes sow
  O're all th' Italian fields where still doth sway
The triple Tyrant: that from these may grow
  A hunder'd-fold, who having learnt thy way
  Early may fly the Babylonian wo.

Voices of Earlier English: John Donne Hates Lawyers

One of the earliest attestations in English of the word "dildo." In making my recording, I imagined Donne having modified his accent consciously to try and imitate the speech of others, thus e.g. varying between /ɛ:/ and /æ:/ for words like name.

A Satire
By John Donne

Sir, though (I thanke God for it) I do hate
Perfectly all this towne, yet there’s one state
In all ill things so excellently best
That hate towards them breeds pity towards the rest.
Though poetrie indeed be such a sinne,
As I thinke, that brings dearths and Spaniards in;
Though, like the pestilence or old-fashioned love,
It ridlingly catch men, and doth remove
Never till it be sterv'd out; yet their state
Is poore, disarm'd, like papists, not worth hate.
One (like a wretch which at barre judged as dead
Yet prompts him which stands next and could not reade,
And saves his life) gives ideot actors meanes
(Starving himselfe) to live by'is labored sceanes,
As in some organs puppits dance above
And bellows pant below which them do move;
One would move love by rimes, but witchcraft’s charms
Bring not now their old feares, nor their old harmes:
Rammes and slings now are seely battery,
Pistolets are the best artillerie;
And they who write to lords rewards to get—
Are they not like boys singing at doores for meat?
And they who write because all write have still
That excuse for writing, and for writing ill;
But hee is worst who, beggarly, doth chaw
Others’ wits’ fruits, and in his ravenous maw
Rawly digested doth those things outspue
As his owne things; and they’re his owne, ’tis true,
For if one eate my meate, though it be knowne
The meate was mine, the excrement’s his owne.
But these do mee no harme, nor they which use
To out-swive dildoes, and out-usure Jewes;
To'out-drink the sea, out-sweare the Litanie;
Who with sinnes’ all kindes as familiar bee
As confessors, and for whose sinfull sake
Schoolemen new tenements in Hell must make;
Whose strange sinnes canonists could hardly tell
In which Commandment’s large receit they dwell.
But these punish themselves: the insolence
Of Coscus onely breeds my great offence,
Whom time (which rots all, and makes botches poxe,
And plodding on must make a calfe an ox)
Hath made a lawyer, which was (alas) of late
But a scarce poet. Jollier of this state
Than e'er new-benefic'd ministers, he throwes
Like nets or lime-twigs, wheresoe’er he goes,
His title'of barrister on every wench,
And wooes in language of the Pleas and Bench:
‘A motion, lady.’ ‘Speak, Coscus.’ ‘I’ve beene
In love e’er since tricesimo'of the Queene.
Continuall claimes I have made, injunctions got
To stay my rival’s suit, that hee should not
Proceed.’ ‘Spare mee!’ ‘In Hillary Terme I went;
You said if I returned this ’Size in Lent,
I should be in remitter of your grace;
In the interim my letters should take place
Of affidavits.’ Words, words, which would teare
The tender labyrinth of a soft maid’s eare:
More, more, than ten Slavonians scolding; more
Than when winds in our ruin'd abbeyes rore.
When sick of poetry and possessed with Muse
Thou wast, and mad, I hop'd; but men which chuse
Law-practice for meere gaine, bold soule, repute
Worse than embrothel'd strumpets prostitute.
Now, like an owlelike watchman, hee must walke,
His hand still at a bill; now he must talke
Idly, like prisoners which whole months will sweare
That only suretiship hath brought them there;
And to every suitor lye in everything
Like a king’s favorite—yea, like a king;
Like a wedge in a blocke, wring to the barre,
Bearing like asses; and, more shameless farre
Than carted whores, lye to the grave judge; for
Bastardy abounds not in kings’ titles, nor
Simonie and sodomy in churchmen’s lives,
As these things do in him: by these he thrives.
Shortly (as the sea) hee will compasse all our land
From Scots to Wight, from Mount to Dover strand;
And spying heires melting with gluttonie,
Satan will not joy at their sinnes as hee:
For, as a thrifty wench scrapes kitchen-stuffe,
And barrelling the droppings, and the snuffe
Of wasting candles, which in thirty yeare
(Relique-like kept) perchance buyes wedding geare;
Peecemeale he gets lands, and spends as much time
Wringing each acre as men pulling prime.
In parchments then, large as his fields, hee drawes
Assurances, bigge as gloss'd civill lawes,
So huge that men (in our time’s forwardnesse)
Are Fathers of the Church for writing lesse.
These hee writes not; nor for these written payes,
Therefore spares no length; as in those first dayes
When Luther was profest he did desire
Short Pater nosters, saying as a fryer
Each day his beads, but, having left those lawes,
Adds to Christ’s prayer the ‘power and glory’ clause.
But when he sells or changes lands, he impairs
His writings, and (unwatcht) leaves out ‘ses heirs’,
As slyly as any commenter goes by
Hard words or sense; or in divinity
As controverters in vouch'd texts leave out
Shrewd words which might against them cleare the doubt.
Where are those spread woods which cloth'd heretofore
These bought lands? Not built, nor burnt within doore.
Where the old landlord’s troops and almes? In great hals
Carthusian fasts and fulsome Bacchanalls
Equally I hate: meanes blesse; in rich men’s homes
I bid kill some beasts, but not hecatombs.
None starve, none surfet so. But, oh, we allow
Good workes as good but out of fashion now,
Like old, rich wardrobes. But my words none drawes
Within the vast reach of the huge statute-lawes.

Voices of Earlier English: H.P. Lovecraft's Only Good Poem

An attempt to give an idea of what Lovecraft's reading voice and accent might have been like, using the few contemporary descriptions of Lovecraft's speech, as well as his social background, his upbringing, his linguistic self-conceptions, and the regional dialect history of American English. A few things are all but certain, such as the fact that his speech would have been non-rhotic, would have the TRAP-BATH vowel split, would have diphthong raising, would have had non-velarized pre-vocalic /l/, and a couple dozen other features. Others are more tenuous.

The Messenger (p. 1929)
By H. P. Lovecraft

To Bertrand K. Hart, Esq.

The thing, he said, would come that night at three
From the old churchyard on the hill below;
But crouching by an oak fire’s wholesome glow,
I tried to tell myself it could not be.
Surely, I mused, it was a pleasantry
Devised by one who did not truly know
The Elder Sign, bequeathed from long ago,
That sets the fumbling forms of darkness free.

He had not meant it—no—but still I lit
Another lamp as starry Leo climbed
Out of the Seekonk, and a steeple chimed
Three—and the firelight faded, bit by bit.
Then at the door that cautious rattling came—
And the mad truth devoured me like a flame!

Voices of Earlier English: Sidney's "Leave Me O Love"

Moderately conservative aristocratic English accent, ca. late 1570s

"Leave Me O Love"
By Sir Philip Sidney

Leave, me, O love which reachest but to dust,
And thou, my mind, aspire to higher things.
Grow rich in that which never taketh rust;
Whatever fades, but fading pleasure brings.
Draw in thy beames, and humble all thy might
To that sweet yoke where lasting freedomes be;
Which breakes the clowdes, and opens forth the light,
That doth both shine and give us sight to see.
O take fast hold; let that light be thy guide
In this small course which birth drawes out to death,
And thinke how evill becommeth him to slide,
Who seeketh heau’n, and comes of heav’nly breath.
Then farewell world; thy uttermost I see:
Eternall Love, maintaine thy life in me.

Kökeritz Remodeled: The Problem and Promise of "Original Pronunciation"

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.)

Numerous scholars for over a century have attempted to reconstruct "Shakespeare's" phonology. Most are less interesting for what they claim to show about Elizabethan England than what they do reveal about the scholars' own language ideologies. Few would attempt such a project without a certain investment in the history of English, or of English literature. Shakespeare must belong to English, and modern ideologies concerning "our" relationship to him as ModE speakers lie waiting in the wings. At least since Kökeritz, such projects have tended to sustain a belief that "Shakespeare's pronunciation differed considerably from Chaucer's, but differed only in small ways from ours." This historicization of ModE, which claims for it a relatable past and even a kind of determined canon, is a siren-song to which even great scholars are not immune.

Much discussion and description of what is now labeled OP has come from parties with axes to grind: whether it be the 19th century romantic fetishization of Shakespeare's English as exaltedly different, Kökeritz' vested aesthetic interest in a maximally "modern" Shakespearean English, or Crystal's pious faith in an OP 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."


je: knɔu e:k ðat ɪn fɔrm ǝf spe:tʃ ɪs tʃɑundʒǝ
— Geoffrey Chaucer

Sing—and singing—remember 
Your song dies and changes 
—Carl Sandburg "Languages"

The aim of a scholar who sets about investigating Shakespeare's works from a phonological point of view can hardly be conceived as an attempt to reconstruct Shakespeare's own pronunciation. That this is now lost beyond recovery no one can ever hope to deny, for Shakespeare has left us neither his own views on spelling reform nor a treatise on pronunciation— let alone a detailed account of his own type of speech. Indeed, we do not even know how Shakespeare pronounced his own surname.
— Fausto Cercignani "Shakespeare's Works and Elizabethan Pronunciation"

no̞ː tʰɜɪm ðɞʊ ʃǝłt nɒt bo̞ːst ðǝt ɜɪ duː tʃʰæːndʒ
ðɪ 'pʰɪɾǝmɪdz bɪłt ʊp wɪt̪ 'nɪwǝɹ mɜɪt
tʰʊ miː ɐɾ̞̊ no̞ːtn̩ nɒvl̩ no̞ːtn̩ st̪ɾæːndʒ
ðæɪ ǝɹ bʊt 'd̪ɾesɪnz ǝv ǝ 'fɔɹmǝɹ̊ sɜɪt.
ɞʊɹ dæːts ǝɹ briːf ǝn̪ 'ðɛɹfɔɹ wiː ǝd'mɜɪɹ̠˔
ʍɒt ðɞʊ dʊst fwɜɪst ǝ'pʰɒn ʊz ðat ɪz o̞ːłd
ǝn 'raðǝɹ mæːk ǝm bɔɹn tʰʊ ɞʊɹ dɪ'zɜɪɹ̠˔
ðan̪ θɪŋk ðat wiː bɪ'fɔ:ɾ ɐv ɛɹd̪ ðǝm tʰo̞ːłd
ðɪ 'redʒɪstǝɹz ǝn̪ ðiː ɜɪ bo̞ːð d̪ɪ'fɜɪ
nɒt 'wʊnd̪ɾɪn ǝt̪ ðǝ 'pʰɾ̞̊ezɪnt nɔɹ ðǝ past,
fɔɹ ðɜɪ ɾɪ'kʰɔɹdz ǝn ʍɒt wɪ siː dʊð lɜɪ
mæːd mɔɾ ǝɹ les bɪ ðɜɪ kʰɔn'tʰɪnjǝł hast
ðɪz du ɜɪ vɞʊ ǝn̪ ðɪs ʃǝł 'evǝɹ biː
ɜɪ wɪł biː t̪ʰr̊ɪʊ dɪs'pɜɪt̪ ðɪ sɜɪð ǝn̪ ðiː
- wɪlɪǝm ʃæːkspɛːr

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

***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 problems here. Jonson's grammar tended to piggyback off of the Latin grammarian tradition, which in turn tended to 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 amore. Even granting the plausibility of the statement 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.

In 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 probably cannot be taken to imply anything about either vowel involved (but note Cercignani's suggestion that this rhyme might rely on variants with /ĕ/ in both words).

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 little 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 STRUT 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.

Moreover, even if, for the sake of argument, one allows for an unrounded STRUT vowel in the English underlying Ben Jonson's grammar, this in no way implies that it was commonplace in "Shakespeare's London." Jonson is writing in 1640, two and a half decades after Shakespeare's death. By the 1640s-50s, all investigators from Eric Dobson to Roger Lass are agreed that unrounded STRUT vowels are attested. But this does not mean one can project such a state of affairs back into the 1590s. Consider the changes that took place within, say, Received Pronunciation from 1960 to ca. 1985 (i.e. within a single generation).

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."

There really is little solid evidence for such an unrounded vowel in, say, STRUT existing in Southern English before Shakespeare's death. What evidence we do have suggests that, before about 1630, the unrounded variant was a stigmatized realization avoided in careful or "good" speech. Thus a more "authentic" reconstruction might give the character of Henry V a rounded STRUT vowel which he consciously unrounds when going under the guise of "Harry Le Roy."

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 many 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.) I can't take seriously the term "British English" used to 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 really 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.

Crystal's discussion of Early Modern /r/ in his dictionary is unacceptably misleading and in some ways quite careless. More than any other part of his presentation of "OP" phonology, his discussion of /r/ not only makes it impossible to take seriously his professed aim to "get as close as possible to the sound system that Shakespeare himself would have heard" but also makes me wonder how carefully he read his secondary sources.

Quoth Crystal:
The exact phonetic quality of this sound is unclear. The descriptions of the sound by contemporary writers leave it open just how r is articulated, such as how far back the tongue curls. When used in front of a vowel, it would seem to have been the same sound as in RP, a postalveolar frictionless continuant, though there must have been a trilled variant (as today in some accents of Scotland and Wales), for Jonson describes r as a sound that ‘hurreth [vibrates] . . . with a trembling about the teeth’. But he then draws a contrast between r before and after vowels: ‘It is sounded firm in the beginning of the words, and more liquid in the middle and ends; as in rarer, riper.’ I interpret this to mean a continuant r, as in the West Country of England and much of America, but there is no way of knowing whether the focus of the articulation is post-alveolar or retroflex, so a great deal of variation will be heard in present-day OP productions.
On the contrary, the descriptions of /r/ from this period are hardly "unclear". A trilled [r] for prestige Southern English is witnessed in the 17th century by several quite clear articulatory descriptions of it, including John Wallis (1653), John Wilkins (1668), William Holder (1669), Christopher Cooper (1685). Even Sir Isaac Newton (yes, that Sir Isaac Newton of gravity-discovering fame) in his phonetic notes (datable to the 1660s) describes the English /r/ as characterized by "the quavering or jarring of the toungs end against the fore parte of palate."

And Newton's description isn't even as good as it gets. Other 17th century phoneticians give far more detailed articulatory descriptions that afford no ambiguity. William Holder's Elements of Speech 1669) is a book primarily concerned with teaching deaf mutes to pronounce English, and in describing English /r/ gives a detailed and quite perceptive characterization of one defining feature of trills: directing airflow over an articulator so that it vibrates. Holder states that R is made
"...by a Pervious [=non-occlusive] Appulse [=obstruction] of the end of the Tongue, with its edge to the Goums, The Tongue being held in that posture, onely by the force of the … Muscles, and not resting any where upon the Teeth; except onely touching them loosely, so as to close the passage of Breath every where by the sides, and conduct it to the end of the Tongue. And this with a strong Impulse of Breath vocalized, so as to cause a trembling and vibration of the whole Tongue; which vibration being slow, does not tune the voice, but make it jarred; the Tongue not resting but […] agitated by strong impulse of Breath"
Crystal's purported perplexity as to "how far back the tongue curls" is — I think — the result of Dobson's misinterpretation of Wallis. Dobson was eager to justify his sense that Early Modern English /r/ was basically identical to that of conservative RP as he himself spoke it. To that end he seized on Wallis' mention of "tongue-curling" while also assuming ineptitude on the part of every single one of the 17th century sources (including Wallis) describing an apical trill. The whole matter would be laborious to discuss in detail, but suffice it to say that Wallis was describing the tongue curling back from the alveo-dental (where his D and N are articulated) to the alveolar region, or from the alveolar to the post-alveolar region. Both would characterize a trill, either alveolar (as in Italian) or postalveolar (as in Russian).

I'm glad Crystal at least mentions some evidence for a trilled initial /r/, and allows for the fact that there was indeed a trilled variant. Though what he chooses to mention is perplexing. Jonson's trill-description in particular has been shown to have little value on its own as evidence. As was first pointed out by Herford and Simpson (1952) in their edition of Ben Jonson's works, and as was re-stated both by Dobson and then by Cercignani, Jonson's entire description is actually plagiarized nearly verbatim from the French grammarian Petrus Ramus. Crystal has clearly read both Dobson and Cercignani, so it's strange that he ignores their point here. Admittedly, he is far from the only scholar to seemingly ignore the implications of Jonson's demonstrated plagiarism. The secondary literature is rife with specialists making unqualified use of Jonson's statement to support their theories about coda R-weakening. Moreover, this is hardly the only point where Crystal accords a frankly weird prominence to Jonson's grammar as a source of evidence. Of course, even granting Jonson's plagiarism, it does not necessarily follow that his description is worthless, if used to support conclusions inferred from other evidence. It is not impossible that Jonson based his description on Ramus because Ramus' characterization of /r/ could, in a rough sense, be used to describe English as he knew it. But that point should be argued.

Consistent with his aesthetic of an Early Modern-Enough English, Crystal domesticates the trill as an implicitly negligible "variant" and says without evidence that "when used in front of a vowel, it would seem to have the same sound as in RP." I can only infer that this claim (which is not even supported by Dobson) is meant to follow from Cercignani's overinterpretation of Robert Robinson's phonetic writings (1617). It does not follow, as Cercignani claimed, that a rhotic formed on "the upper gummes or outmost part of the roofe of the mouth" may be taken for a "post-alveolar frictionless continuant." This is in fact one place of articulation where trilling commonly occurs. Cercignani asserts, and offers no evidence, that an approximant is more likely. Robinson himself really offers no evidence either for or against a trill, and the only reason to entertain the idea of his English as possibly not containing a trill is that he gives no clear description of the tongue vibrating or trembling, whereas other sources overwhelmingly do.

Virtually every available source for the 16th and 17th centuries with anything to say about English /r/ either implies or explicitly describes an apical trill (or at least non-approximant) for /r/ as normal. The few apparent exceptions are either hopelessly ambiguous (Robinson) or explicitly report trill-less speech as aberrant or a speech defect (Holder, Wilkens). Our best 18th century sources attest to continued trilled realizations among a minority of high-status London speakers. The alleged "difficulty" (Crystal 2016) of determining the nature of EModE /r/ is in part an artifact of scholarly unwillingness to believe what the actual sources say about the English known to them. It's also worth noting the complete absence of any mention of apical trills as a regionalism in this period. Many 16th and 17th century sources are eager to document and disparage various pronunciations as Scotticisms and Hibernisms, but Englishmen give no indication that Scottish, Irish, Welsh or Northern pronunciations of /r/ were at all peculiar to or distinctive before the 18th century. Even then the first reference by Defoe (1720) to an oddly pronounced Northern /r/ is to to uvular [ʀ]. From around the mid 1700s we have increasingly plentiful written testimony from Southern Englishmen as to the peculiar harshness of coda /r/ as pronounced by Irishmen, Welshmen, Scotsmen and Northern English speakers.

The whole matter of Early Modern English /r/ is in desperate need of an updated and detailed examination in light of what is now known about the behavior of rhotics. Which is why I am working on an article on it. I'll link to it here when it's published. I'll say this right now though:

Recent phonetic and sociophonetic research involving rhotics suggests that the various issues involving Early Modern London /r/ are readily explainable. Having an apical trill in your language basically lends itself to considerable instability in how your /r/ is realized in any given instance. Trills, especially when they do not contrast with another type of R-sound, tend to readily "devolve" into less complex, less energetically costly allophones. They thus provide a constant articulatory breeding ground for the creation of lenition forms whose co-variation among speakers is often conditioned as much socially as it is phonologically. This is particularly true of urban areas. Recent sociophonetic studies of /r/ variability for urban dialects of languages like Persian, Dutch, Arabic, Spanish, Polish all point in the same direction. If we assume that London English /r/ ca. 1600, had a trill as its highest strength grade, it would almost by definition have been prone to complex social and idiolectal variation in the distribution of lenition forms. Most speakers in Shakespeare's London probably had a trill in their speech, but how frequently they actually realized /r/ as a trill, how frequently they produced a tap, and how frequently (and in what social or phonological contexts) they used fricative or approximant lenition forms, will have varied considerably among speakers. In any case, the eventual loss of [r] as the highest strength grade of /r/ (which basically happens in the latter half of the 18th century) would have favored stabilization of its realizations.

Alright, enough about my research.

Having dropped Jonson's trill on the reader as a domesticable "variant", and having given no mention of the more worthy evidence, Crystal ignores the problem Cercignani and Dobson raise with Jonson as a witness, and interprets Jonson's "liquid" as referring to "a continuant r" occurring "before a vowel." The only question for Crystal, it seems, is whether it was "a post-alveolar or a retroflex approximant" i.e. more British or more American. There is zero direct support for this, and only weak circumstantial support. As with /r/ so with all else, the desire to preserve the "beauty of OP", relying on an aesthetic of linguistic equidistance which validates the conception of Shakespeare's English as our "Mother Tongue" is at daggers drawn with Crystal's professed aim "to get as close as possible to the sound system that Shakespeare himself would have heard."

Almost all modern rhotic dialects of English have an alveolar or rhetroflex approximant of some kind in words like round. So too do modern OP productions. The use of a trill or tap would inevitably sound too distractingly regional (and probably quite a few actors would have trouble with it.) It might even remind (Modern Southern English) speakers of the use of trills as a posh affectation, a fashion which until recently could commonly be heard on the English stage.

The fact that a trill was clearly 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 being asked to bask in the ostensible "authenticity" of it all, and at the same time being being subtly lied to. Like a man loudly bragging about his modesty, or a pathological liar rhapsodizing about how important it is to tell the truth, it just leaves an unsavory taste on my brain. Or maybe I'm just nuts.

***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. Very few historical phonologists specializing in Early Modern English think otherwise today. 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 (in most sociolects). 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 (as Crystal seems to) 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 lends itself to somewhat more "imperfect" rhymes. In a London where coexisting Englishes 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. Shakespeare rhymes sea/plea, sea/thee, sea/play and it has long been obvious to scholars that multiple varieties of English are at work here. Nor is Shakespeare at all unusual in this. His contemporary George Chapman rhymes sea/way, sea/he, sea/plea all in a single work (though rhymes of the latter type are by far the most prevalent for him as they are for Shakespeare.) 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 pl[e:]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 Kökeritz (despite apparently accepting Cercignani's arguments against it) is that puns may be taken to imply a vowel merger. But puns do not require complete phonological identity of individual words, let alone a full-blown merger in all eligible lexical items, 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.

In any case, even granting that a given pun on loin/line or voice/vice is intended and was perceived as such by its Elizabethan audience, this 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.

It is unclear whether the vowel of SIGH was at this point /ɛɪ/ or /ǝɪ/. I myself prefer to transcribe this vowel as /ɜɪ/. 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 /tɜɪ̯l/ but TOIL /tu̯ɜɪ̯l/. See below on evidence for this.

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 other examples.) If you can have a rhyme remedy/try far 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.

Note also that 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, though some 17th century sources seem to have a lexical distribution with /wa/ for some words, and /wɛ/ for others.) 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), for example, equates the French <oi, oy> when pronounced /ɛ/ with the sound represented by English <ay>. He also equates the French <oy> /wɛ/ with the sound represented in English by the spelling <oy>. According to Mauger, the final vowel in the name François is to be pronounced with (something like) the same vowel heard in the English pronunciation of the word viceroy. This equation of French <oi> (=/wɛ/) is not limited to Mauger. It is first found in Alexander Barcley's French Grammar (1521), and continues for the next hundred years.

Other descriptions of English <oy> in words like <boy>, <annoy> as being pronounced something like /wɛ:/ or /wɛɪ/ or /wǝɪ/ are found in the writings of Sir Thomas Smith (1552), Thomas Tonkins (ca. 1600), Charles Butler (1633) and Richard Hodges (1640s). That these are not simply induced by traditional spelling is clear from the fact that a number of our sources note that some <oi> words are pronounced with /wɛɪ~wǝɪ/, others contain something in the range of /ɒɪ~ɔɪ/, and others vary between the two. 

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:

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.
Speake it in French, King, say "Pardonne-moy."
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 /dɪstruwɜɪ/.

Dutch, French and German descriptions of words in the relevant lexical sets throughout the period make it very hard to seriously sustain the idea of a merged TRY/TROY vowel in Shakespeare's lifetime, let alone in all <oi> words. That a /ǝɪ/ pronunciation with no labial onglide was to become current in the later 1600s is quite clear, and it probably did have earlier currency in colloquial speech in lower sociolects, but it will not do to back-project it as Crystal does. Especially since Shakespeare in particular is distinctive, if anything, for how he avoids this kind of interrhyming. Whereas Spenser and others use rhymes of the type toil/compile (which probably rest on a pronunciation /twɜɪl kʊmpɜɪl/, 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 /swɜɪn/ and /grwɜɪn/ they would still rhyme just fwine.

***Of Whores and Hours***

Quoth Crystal:
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.
Here again I see the ghost of Kökeritz hovering behind the page. Positing /o:r/ for the reflex of ME /u:r/ is itself not a problem, exactly. What is a problem is not even allowing for fluctuation between /o:/ and a diphthong in such words. We have abundant evidence that in most varieties of English, including those current in London, ME /u:r o:r/ were kept largely distinct. By "largely distinct" I mean that they did not fully merge. There was clear interchange between the two. Many words (even those where the fluctuation cannot have been inherited from Middle English) could clearly be pronounced two different ways by speakers who unarguably did not merge these two.

This is one more point where puns lead Crystal, as they led Kökeritz, to make entirely too much of very little, despite his demonstrated familiarity with Cercignani's rebuttal of Kökeritz' eagerness to see puns anywhere and everywhere. The asserted phonetic identity between e.g. whore/hour/o'er is another instance of the problem. That words like POWER, HOUR probably had covarying pronunciations with and without a diphthong is likely, and Cercignani shows as much. But it's an enormous leap from this fact to the fullblown POOR/POWER merger which Crystal reconstructs. In any case, to act as if any given instance of HOUR may be potentially taken as a homophone for WHORE and made to service a pun is quite unacceptable. Crystal is on this point even more inflexible than his predecessor. Kökeritz at least allows for variation between /ǝʊr/ and /o:r/ for the vowel of HOUR and POWER. But Crystal's transcriptions simply equate them as /o:/ with not a footnote's worth of wiggle-room. It is inadvisable to waste too many hours of one's day obsessing o'er whores. So to speak.

The difficulty largely disappears if one does "orthoepists" the kindness of not assuming them to be incompetent. We have fairly clear indications from all major sources before the middle of the 17th century that diphthongs in e.g. MOUTH and PRICE did not contain the same first element. Patricia Wolfe demonstrates as much in Linguistic Change and the Great Vowel Shift in English (1973). The actual phonetic value of these diphthongs must have varied in quite unrecoverable ways. But if we take the MOUTH vowel as basically /ɞʊ/ for Londoners ca. 1600, the perceptual similarity to the

***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 for words like act. This "OP" is quite clearly not the English that Jonson is describing.

In any case, we have no 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.

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/. It seems clear to me that he accepts this merger for Shakespeare's English largely on the basis of broad statements by the likes of Wells, Nevalainen, Kökeritz etc. about how the merger "was accomplished by the 17th century." Crystal appears to have latched onto this for its apparent modernity and ignored the massive amount of better and more recent scholarship demonstrating that it was not so. His attempts to bolster his reconstruction of an a-like vowel rely on at least one gross misconstrual of evidence.

It is quite untrue that the pronunciation reflected by "the use of an a in such words as merchant / marchant, sterling / starling, German / Iarman, and rhymes such as serve / carve, stir / war" has anything whatsoever to do with the NURSE-merger, let alone with the quality of the vowel resulting from it. Spellings such as marchant reflect Late Middle English lowering rather than the Early Modern NURSE merger, as is made clear from the fact that it is only historical /ɛr/ words that turn up with an <ar> spelling. Barring a handful of (mostly) debatable exceptions, and some cases (like Crystal's stir/war) which may not be intended as rhymes at all, it is also only the /ɛr/ words which are optionally rhymable with /ar/ as in convert/art, and only the /ɛr/ words which are susceptible to rhymes like verse/pierce where the /ɛ:r/ of pierce was never NURSE-merged in the first place. This all involves, one way or another, a property peculiar to the /ɛr/ words, and the very existence of such a property implies something less than a fullblown three-way merger across the lexicon. Although we have common crossrhymes of historical /ɛr ar/, of /ɪr ʊr wɔr/, of /ɛr ɔr/ and of /ɛr ɪr/, we only very rarely have crossrhymes of the types /ʊr ar/ and /ʊr ɛr/ (e.g. Drayton's turn/earn) from the period. Even most of the seeming /ʊr ɛr/ or /ʊr ar/ rhymes, such as Shakespeare's quern/churn and farther/murther, have compelling explanations that suggest something other than a merger (e.g. here farther is in fact further <- OE furþor, and churn <- OE ċyrn would be expected to produce /ɪr/ in Anglian with a possible shift -> /ɛr/, which is indeed suggested by the spelling <cherne> in the First Folio.) That Crystal's OP reflects modern anglophone sensibilities on this as on other points is made plain by the fact that the merged /ɐ:r/ of Crystal's NURSE vowel is usually only given for those ME /ɛr/ words that happen not to survive with /a/ lowering in Modern Standard English. Thus starve is listed by Crystal as /stɑ:rv/ with the "normal" pre-rhotic a vowel, while deserve is listed as /dɪzɐ:ɹv/ with Crystal's NURSE vowel (even though, as Folio spellings like <sterve> suggest, there is no reason to think that these two words when rhymed had different vocalic phonemes.)

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, 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, and it fails to account for rhymes such as pierce/verse.

***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 apparent 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, John Standysh). Spenser has water/daughter. Drayton has slaughter/laughter, wrought her/laughter. 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 is a good reason for this. The pronunciation of words of this type seems to have varied in some quite drastic ways among speakers. Some apparently still had the velar fricative of Middle English here. Others will have had /f/ in many these words.

Simon Daines (1640) tells us that <augh>

...sounds like Af for the most part, as in...daughter, laughter, which most of us pronounce dafter, lafter; except slaughter, which is slater, with A broad and full...the rest goe according to the tenure of the precedent rules, as caught, taught &c."

I should mention that the sound Daines is actually describing may not be as straightforward as it might seem. He could well be describing a sound similar but not identical to [f] such as [ɸ] or [ʍ]. The sheer perceptual similarity involved could be enough to license a rhyme with the word "after". Listen for your self: here is a recording of me pronouncing [daftɚ], [daɸtɚ], [daʍtɚ] in sequence. Still, the existence of genuine [af] variants is amply documented by other evidence.

Some others probably had a diphthong here. Robert Robinson (1617) describes a diphthong for thought and similar -ught words (but implies a monophthong in words like vault.)

And other speakers did have /ɔ:/ or /ɒ:/ or the like.

But the diversity of realizations of -ught will have meant that one could not easily crossrhyme it with other types of words without risking a perceived "imperfect" rhyme for a great many speakers.

In any case, Crystal's simple reconstruction of /ɔ:/ for most such words is not the full story. His dictionary lists nought as rhyming with oft, but the variant pronunciation /nɒft/ implied by this rhyme is not given. Why on earth not? I cannot escape the impression that this is (once again) motivated by his aesthetic of linguistic equidistance, and has very little to do with an attempt to accurately represent what we know of London English ca. 1600.

And what of that passage in King Lear? I suggest it may not be monorhymed. Or rather, it may have been written to allow multiple rhymeschemes depending on performance choice. For example, the following AABBA rhyme:

A fox when one has /kaft ǝr/
And such a /daftǝr/
Should sure to the /slɑ:tǝr/
If my cap would buy a /hɒ:tǝr/
So the fool follows /aftǝr/

It may be that /ft/ rhymes were meant to be silly, as this passage spoken by the fool assuredly is. The other two after/daughter rhymes in Shakespeare also seem to have rustic or ludicrous implications.

***Oo look at Luke's yew and his ewe, w[ɪw] you?***

Three more of Crystal's vowels.
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.
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 again 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 appear to have been shortened extremely late.

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

***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, let alone of syllable rime. In fact, it may not imply the same level of identity in all contexts.

In Shakespeare's corpus, inexact rhymes are not evenly distributed. Indubitably approximate rhymes (e.g. ship/split, provoke/took) seem more frequent in certain contexts (such as the Gower chorus from Pericles.) This suggests that approximate rhyme could be used intentionally to generate particular effects. (In Gower's case, the intended effect might be antiquarian, evoking the somewhat freer rhyming practice of late 15th and early 16th century poetry. This would be most appropriate for a character meant "to sing a song that old was sung.")

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 the (very likely) alternative pronunciation /wast/ for waste. Ditto probably for chat/gate, dab/babe. But what is one to make of the fact that 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 some speakers (which it was, unless each and every one of the orthoepists describing such a distinction is completely mistaken) then another peculiar effect is probably 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. There is a bevy of aspects of the vowel system(s) that seem to have been unlike most or all modern Englishes, and which Crystal's OP effectively bleeds out.

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.



For daughter: a variant /daftǝr/ should probably given.
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, Chapman 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 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 ʃɒk 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:ɹdz ǝɪ brɛ:k
ðat ðo: ðǝ tɒŋ bɪ mǝɪn, ðǝɪ vǝɪs jɪt spɛ:k