University of Kansas theater professor Paul Meier is staging A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the original accent of the bard’s age: “Professor’s research allows audience to hear Shakespeare’s words in his own accent.”
So what will the KU audiences hear when they attend this production?
“American audiences will hear an accent and style surprisingly like their own in its informality and strong r-colored vowels,” Meier said. “The original pronunciation performance strongly contrasts with the notions of precise and polished delivery created by John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier and their colleagues from the 20th century British theater.”
Meier said audiences will hear word play and rhymes that “haven’t worked for several hundred years (love/prove, eyes/qualities, etc.) magically restored, as Bottom, Puck and company wind the language clock back to 1595.”
“The audience will hear rough and surprisingly vernacular diction, they will hear echoes of Irish, New England and Cockney that survive to this day as ‘dialect fossils.’ And they will be delighted by how very understandable the language is, despite the intervening centuries.”
I do not know enough about the linguistic and literary research to judge whether such is convincing, but it appears reasonable. Meier argues that sixteenth century English English resembles the colonial accents of the Anglophone world more than the standard British English of today, and by that I mean the Queen’s English, too, not simply chav. When I studied early modern French literature in undergrad, we learnt that modern Québécois is much closer to the Parisian accent of Molière’s stage than contemporary standard French. Settler populations tend to conserve dialects better.