Ben Crystal stands at the site of the Rose Playhouse in London; the first purpose built theatre to stage Shakespeare’s plays during his lifetime. Ben is an actor, author and Shakespeare specialist. He is well known for his love of ‘Original Pronunciation’ – a term given to speaking Shakespeare in the accent that Shakespeare and his contemporaries would have had. He explains that some Shakespearean actors use a posh accent called Received Pronunciation (sometimes abbreviated to ‘RP’). This way of speaking was only invented 200 years ago, and so we know it is not the way that Shakespeare spoke, more than 400 years ago. Ben demonstrates a number of regional accents and suggests that Shakespeare’s Original Pronunciation was a mixture of these. He explains that words like ‘stars’ and ‘wars’ would have rhymed in Original Pronunciation. He recommends speaking quickly, getting rid of long vowel sounds in words like ‘bath’ and mimicking the accent of a pirate to help you sound like one of Shakespeare’s contemporaries.
Pupils could have great fun following Ben’s advice by trying to speak a line of Shakespeare in Original Pronunciation. Using Shakespearean insults or a short extract from a text, printed on a piece of card, pupils could be encouraged to move around the classroom space, quietly muttering their line. After a while, give them an instruction to say the line differently (e.g. to say it like it was a secret, to shout it to the top of a mountain, to say it as if it was the punchline of a joke). Finally, pupils could try saying the line in Received Pronunciation (i.e. as a very posh and hammy actor) and then as Ben Crystal suggests, speaking the line quickly and with a regional accent (either their own accent or another). They could try performing these to the class, assessing which sounds better – Received Pronunciation or the pupils version of Original Pronunciation?