Shakespeare’s Voice

File this one under, “I’m surprised I never wondered about this before…”

When Daniel Day Lewis portrayed Lincoln last year he gave the president a high, nasal voice that sent many into hysterics.  It’s simply not done that way!  Everybody that’s ever portrayed Lincoln has always given him a deep booming voice.  But Lewis (or is it Day Lewis?), known for the depths of research into the character, decided that his version would be the more realistic one.
What’s that got to do with Shakespeare?  Well, I’m wondering – what do you think Shakespeare’s voice sounded like?
I was thinking of a game.  Not a blog game or a hashtag game, but a video game.  And in this imaginary video game, when you finished a level, a little animated ghost of Shakespeare would tell you “Job well done!” or something more linguistically appropriate.  My first thought was, “I’ll consult Ben Crystal on the subject of original pronunciation to learn how it would sound.” 
But then I thought, no, that would tell me how the characters on stage would sound. And that’s not the same thing.  I’m curious what Mr. Shakespeare himself sounded like when he spoke.
The idea is weird to me.  I simply never think about him speaking.  We think about him writing, to be sure.  Earlier today Bardfilm made a reference to just how tired a man’s hand can get after writing out the plays in long hand.  We have the image of the man working in front of his parchment, quill in hand, often by candlelight, churning out the words as we have them today.  But when he went to work and talked to his actors … what then?
If Daniel Day Lewis decided to play William Shakespeare, what do you think he’d do with the character?  You know what, I’ll even open it up wider because I like that idea.  Seriously, what would Daniel Day Lewis do with the character of Shakespeare do you think?  Any attributes are wide open for discussion.  Would he bring Shakespeare’s rumored syphilis into the portrayal, and if so, how might that show itself?  What about his rumored marijuana habit?  What do we think Shakespeare weighed during his life?  We so often only see the headshot, after all.  Would Mr. Lewis have to put on some pounds, or lose some?

5 thoughts on “Shakespeare’s Voice

  1. Interesting! Early in his career, Shakespeare was described as "honey-tongued"—I imagine he was described so whether the writer had actually heard him speak or not. We tend to think of reading Shakespeare or seeing Shakespeare (just as we tend to think of Shakespeare writing rather than performing—his voice would have been heard on stage as well), but Shakespeare's contemporaries often thought of hearing rather than seeing—"We'll hear a play tonight" rather than "We'll see a play tonight."

    With all that, I don't know that we can make any specific claims about what mellifluous speech must have sounded like.

    But I do find it helpful to read the sonnets in the voice of Barry White. I imagine that's pretty much what Shakespeare sounded like.


  2. I read the sonnets with the voice of Alan Rickman. So maybe that's what Shakespeare sounded like.

    Now, in a completely unrelated subject – your Shakespeare Universal shirt is so timely! Did you see this post? What the Globe is doing? You are prescient!

  3. Just found your blog – love it!

    Teddy Roosevelt also had a high, piercing voice that sounds ridiculous to our modern senses, but was apparently effective at the time. Goes to show how fashions change, what's regarded as "manly" or "attractive" even regarding pitch and timbre of voices.

    I think Lewis would be a dismal Shakespeare, even as great an actor as he is. He'd have the melancholy, brooding artiste but could he do the light-hearted, quick-witted side of Shakespeare? Interesting question, though.

  4. Here is a short Youtube video featuring Prof David Crystal and his actor son Ben, talking about their work with Original Pronunciation..I think that performances in OP only add to the authenticity of a performance…much "earthier" sounding.This doesn't answer the question of how Shakespeare's voice sounded in individual detail…but gives an indication of his general accent…lovely to hear The Sonnets with their proper rhymes restored.

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