When we read Shakespeare, we might be a little skeptical of some of his rhymes. Does play really rhyme with sea? Slant rhymes are frequently used, so when a rhyme doesn’t seem quite right, it’s likely it wasn’t intended to be. However, there’s also the possibility that sea was pronounced differently in Shakespeare’s accent.
British Council has a wonderful demonstration of what Shakespeare’s accent would’ve sounded like (Shakespeare’s accent begins at 2:20):
It sounds very similar to an Irish or Scottish accent. If you were expecting an English accent similar to how contemporary Londoners sound, this probably comes as a surprise. Hearing Shakespeare’s words as he (and his actors) would have spoken them does somehow make them easier to understand. For one, this accent seems to encourage an almost southern-U.S. drawl. As the speaker points out, the accent makes him speak a little deeper.
If you’re wondering how experts figured out that this is how Shakespeare sounded, here’s another video that will offer some clarification.
Youtuber NativLang points out that Shakespeare wrote in Early Modern English, right around the time of the Great Vowel Shift. It was a peculiar moment in the history of the English language in that it is something of a bridge between Chaucer’s Middle English and what we now know as Modern English. How English speakers pronounced vowels was drastically changing in Shakespeare’s day, which contributes to the unique accent heard in these videos.
Take out your copy of Hamlet and give the accent a spin!
Feature image courtesy of Theatrikos Theatre Company