The Baltimore Shakespeare Factory is putting on an original pronunciation production of The Merchant of Venice with the help of OP experts David and Ben Crystal (father and son, respectively). The really exciting part is that the company is planning to film its production. The OP productions have been growing in popularity since the very first production in 2004 when David Crystal collaborated with Shakespeare’s Globe to create an OP production of Romeo and Juliet. So far these productions have been only performed on stage. The Shakespeare Factory wants to change that, which is why it is launching a major Kickstarter campaign to raise $18,000 to capture their stage production of The Merchant of Venice digitally.
“While there have been OP productions recorded in the past, none are publicly available,” writes Chris Cotterman, who will direct The Merchant of Venice. And “none of those productions have been of this play, which means that no one alive has heard The Merchant of Venice like this.”
So exactly, how does anyone know what Shakespeare’s English sounded like? Clearly, that period had many dialects as English does today; so what was “proper” spoken English in London during Shakespeare’s lifetime?
There are “three types of evidence that you look for,” says David Crystal in a YouTube video: Original Pronunciation. “The first is the observations made by people writing the language at the time.” For example, dramatist Ben Jonson “tells us that we pronounce the R after a vowel. He even calls it a doggy sound, a grrrrr.” Crystal’s second guide is how the word is spelled. “The spelling was a much better guide then than it is today (England didn’t have standardized spelling, so writers wrote the words as they pronounced them). The third type of evidence that Crystal looks at is with rhymes and puns that simply do not work in modern English. Nearly, two thirds of the rhymes in the sonnets do not rhyme unless spoken in OP. Examples of original pronunciation is at Pronouncing Shakespeare where clips from Romeo and Juliet, Troilus and Cressida, and Sonnet 116 can be heard. If you’d like to lend BSF a hand go to Kickstarter. The money will go to hire a film crew (a sound engineer, for example), equipment rentals such as microphones for cast members), post-production editing, production costs for the physical media and hosting costs for the digital download, and shipping costs.
Film director and writer Deborah Voorhees writes reviews, features, and a weekly column Bard in Multimedia that publishes each Monday and covers books, films, recordings, web content, videos, video games, radio, television, and all emerging mediums. Send press releases and comments to email@example.com.