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Shakespeare’s Speech Emily Gruber History of the English Language 23 March 2007
Early Modern Theater • Traveling Companies • The Queen’s Men • The Theatre and Swan
Playscript Conditions • Collaboration • “Foul” and “fair” papers • Piracy • Actor revisions Quarto vs. Folio
A Midsummer Night’s Dream • Written around 1595 or 1596 (around the same time as Shakespeare was probably working on Romeo and Juliet), possibly for a court wedding or for Queen Elizabeth’s celebration of the feast day of St. John; there is no conclusive evidence. • Plotted in multiple layers: the fairy court with Oberon and Titania, the Athenian court with Theseus, Hippolyta and the pairs of lovers, and the ‘rude mechanicals’ putting on the play, including Bottom the weaver. Different registers of language make these different worlds distinct.
Enter Piramus. Pyr. Sweet Moone, I thank thee for thy ſunny beames, I thanke thee Moone, for ſhining now ſo bright: For by thy gracious, golden, glittering beames, I truſt to taſte of trueſt Thisbies ſight. But ſtay: O ſpight! but marke, poore Knight, What dreadful dole is heere? Eyes do you ſee! How can it be! O dainty Ducke: O Deere! Thy mantle good; what ſtaind with blood! Approch you furies fell: O Fates! come, come: Cut thred and thrum, Quaile, cruſh, conclude, and quell. Du. This paſſion, and the death of a deare friend, Would go neere to make a man looke ſad. Dut. Beſhrew my heart, but I pittie the man. Pir. O wherefore Nature, did'ſt thou Lions frame? Since lion vilde hath heere deflour'd my deere: Which is: no, no, which was the faireſt Dame That liu'd, that lou'd, that like'd, that look'd with cheere. Come teares, confound: Out ſword, and wound The pap of Piramus: I, that left pap, where heart doth hop; Thus dye I, thus, thus, thus. Now am I dead, now am I fled, my ſoule is in the sky, Tongue loſe thy light, Moone take thy flight, Now dye, dye, dye, dye, dye Dem. No Die, but an ace for him; for he is but one. Lis. Leſſe then an ace man. For he is dead, he is nothing. Du. With the helpe of a Surgeon, he might yet recouer, and proue an Aſſe. Dut. How chance Moone-ſhine is gone before? Thisby comes backe, and findes her Louer. Enter Thisby. Duke. She wil finde him by ſtarre-light. Heere ſhe comes, and her paſſion ends the play. Dut. Me thinkes ſhee ſhould not vſe a long one for ſuch a Piramus: I hope ſhe will be breefe. Act 5, Scene 1
The Effect of the Great Vowel Shift Because the Great Vowel Shift was in variable progress during Shakespeare’s period of activity, he could take advantage of homophones that we no longer hear—often to make jokes, mainly puns. Many of what we now call “near-rhymes” were also probably due to the GVS—when Shakespeare wrote them, he was likely rhyming perfectly.
Things We Don’t Hear • Puns on “ace” and “Asse” – during the process of the GVS, these vowels could have been identical; both would probably have sounded like “ass” • A bunch of rhymes, which are usually played for humor because they no longer sound alike—for example: • “confound” and “wound”: “confound” would probably have sounded like “confoond” • “pap” and “hop”: “pap” would probably have sounded like “pop”
Style • Playing with tragedic conventions: Come teares, confound: Out ſword, and wound The pap of Piramus: I, that left pap, where heart doth hop; Thus dye I, thus, thus, thus. Now am I dead, now am I fled, my ſoule is in the sky, Tongue loſe thy light, Moone take thy flight, Now dye, dye, dye, dye, dye Shakespeare mocks the extended death-scenes that were tragedies’ bread-and-butter, and the often hackeneyed poetry that resulted.
Different social registers—compare the heightened verse of the ‘play’ with the spectators’ comments: Sweet Moone, I thank thee for thy ſunny beames, I thanke thee Moone, for ſhining now ſo bright: For by thy gracious, golden, glittering beames, I truſt to taſte of trueſt Thisbies ſight. But ſtay: O ſpight! but marke, poore Knight, What dreadful dole is heere? Eyes do you ſee! How can it be! O dainty Ducke: O Deere! The first four lines here are in iambic pentameter; the last four alternate between tetrameter and trimeter, all rigidly metrical. Shakespeare also makes heavy use of alliteration and repetition. On the other hand, the spectators use sentences that could pass for normal. If the last two lines of this were spelled as we would recognize the words, they would read: Duke. She will find him by starlight. Here she comes, and her passion ends the play. Dut. Methinks she should not use a long one for such a Pyramus: I hope she will be brief.
An Elizabethan “Accent” • Kokeritz: we “would be able to understand Shakespeare and Burbage with little effort . . . Their speech would probably sound like a quaint dialect characterized by more monophthongs and far purer long vowels . . . a marked quantitative distinction between historically long and short vowels . . . and not a few curious pronunciations of individual words” • At least one site on Elizabethan English claims “proper Elizabethan is more akin to the speech of backwood communities on the East Coast of the United States”. • http://www.renfaire.com/Language/Audio/AIFC/mercy.aifc • http://www.renfaire.com/Language/Audio/AIFC/lord.aifc • http://www.renfaire.com/Language/Sounds/want-sounds.aifc …Midwest America?
Oberon: I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, Where oxslips and the nodding violet grows, Quite overcanopied with luscious woodbine, With sweet muskroses and with eglantine. əi no: ə bæŋk hwε:r ðə wəild təim blo:z hwε:r akslIps ən ðə nadņ vəilət gro:z kwəit o:vərkænəpid wIð l٨∫əs wUdbəin wIθ swi:t m٨skro:zIz ən wIð εgləntəin Act 2, Scene 1
Spelling • Inconsistencies: “thanke” vs. “thank”, “Deere” vs. “deare”, “Die” vs. “dye”, “Piramus” vs. “Pyr”(amus) • Silent e’s still very prevalent: in Pyramus’s first four lines, we see “Moone”, “thanke”, “beames”, “marke”, “poore” • Complex vowel spellings for long vowels have not completely been standardized: we see “heere” for “here”, “breefe” for “brief”, “neere” for “near”, “thred” for “thread” but also “teares”, “deare”, and “beames” approaching (or “approch”ing) modern spellings • Very phonetic – “I” for “Aye” • Capitalization used to cue actors to where verbal emphasis should fall