The British Library releases the first ever audio CD of Shakespeare spoken in the original pronunciation

‘Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue’

- Hamlet, Act 3

The British Library is today releasing a new audio CD, Shakespeare’s original pronunciation, featuring speeches and scenes performed as Shakespeare would have heard them. Although there have been a handful of attempts to perform Shakespeare in the original pronunciation on stage, notably at the Globe in London and the universities of Kansas and Nevada in the US, this is the first time that recordings have been made available worldwide for study and enjoyment.

This CD promises to be entertaining as well as a unique and important resource for the study of Shakespeare. Thanks to the latest scholarship it takes us closer than we have been able to come before to how the works of the greatest English playwright were spoken and acted in his own lifetime.

Under the guidance of Ben Crystal, actor and expert in original Shakespearian pronunciation in performance, a company of actors performs some of Shakespeare’s best-known poems, solo speeches and scenes from 18 of his plays. The selection of speeches includes Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be”, Antony’s “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears” from Julius Caesar, Henry V’s “Once more unto the breach, dear friends”, and “All the world’s a stage” from As You Like It. Scenes are included from The Comedy of Errors, King Lear, Macbeth, Much Ado about Nothing and Othello.

The disc is accompanied by an introductory essay by Professor David Crystal, author of many books on the English language. As the essay explains: ‘When we hear original pronunciation used in relation to Shakespeare, we enter a new auditory world. Rhymes that don’t work in modern English suddenly work. Puns missed in modern English become clear. New assonances and rhythms give lines a fresh impact. Original pronunciation suggests fresh contrasts in speech style, such as between young and old, court and commoners, or literate and illiterate; and it motivates unexpected possibilities of character interpretation. Original pronunciation also illustrates what Hamlet meant when he advised the players to speak “trippingly upon the tongue”.’

Ben Crystal, curator of the project and director of the performances, said: “Take a company of actors, well-versed in their Master's voice who pay careful attention to what their Bardic writer wants from them, and who speak the words from the heart. Then attempt to recreate it all 400 years later. For the first time in centuries, we have 75 recorded minutes of sonnets, speeches and scenes recorded as we hope Shakespeare heard them. It is, in short, Shakespeare as you've never heard him before.”

Professor David Crystal said: “The modern presentation of Shakespeare's plays and poems in period pronunciation has already attracted a wide following, despite the fact that hardly any recordings have been publicly available. That situation changes now with this CD, which beautifully illustrates the range and diversity of the accent in some of Shakespeare's best-known passages. It will provide an invaluable resource for scholars, students, actors, and directors who want to take further their interest in this fascinating approach.”

The British Library will be holding an event to mark the release of Shakespeare’s original pronunciation on Friday 4 May. Ben Crystal, together with actors from the Company formed for the Library's Shakespeare's original pronunciation CD, will offer a rare chance to hear new meanings uncovered, new jokes revealed and poetic effects enhanced.


Notes to Editors

For clips and interviews please contact / 020 7412 7105

Shakespeare’s original pronunciation
is published by the British Library on 14 March 2012, price £10.00. The disc contains 28 recordings, duration 75 minutes (ISBN 978 0 978-0-7123-5119-5). The recordings are copyright of the British Library Board.

The CD is available from the British Library Shop (tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7735 / e-mail: and online at as well as other bookshops throughout the UK.


Shakespeare's Original Pronunciation - Live! Friday 4 May 2012, 18.30-20.00, £7.50 / £5

How did Shakespeare sound to the audiences of his day? Ben Crystal, together with actors from the Company formed for the Library's Shakespeare's Original Pronunciation CD, offers us a rare chance to hear new meanings uncovered, new jokes revealed and poetic effects enhanced.

Ben Crystal is an actor and writer. His workshops developing fresh approaches to acting Shakespeare are given around the world. In 2011 he played Hamlet in the first Original Pronunciation production of the play for 400 years, with the Nevada Repertory Company.

Track Listing Shakespeare’s original pronunciation

1. Sonnet 116
In modern English
Duration: 0.56
Reader: Ben Crystal

2. Sonnet 116
In original pronunciation
Duration: 0.49
Reader: Ben Crystal

3. Sonnet 18
Duration: 1.10
Reader: Joan Walker

4. Sonnet 71
Duration: 1.19
Reader: Natalie Thomas

5. Sonnet 154
Duration: 0.52
Reader: Matthew Mellalieu

6. A Midsummer Night’s Dream
From Act 3
Duration: 0.32
Oberon: Philip Bird

7. As You Like It
From Act 2
Duration: 1.19
Jaques: Colin Hurley

8. Hamlet
From Act 3
Duration: 1.53
Hamlet: Matthew Mellalieu

9. Henry V
From Act 3
Duration: 2.05
Henry V: Benjamin O’Mahony

10. Macbeth
From Act 2
Duration: 2.20
Macbeth: Colin Hurley

11. Richard II
From Act 5
Duration: 4.16
Richard II: Ben Crystal

12. The Winter’s Tale
From Act 3
Duration: 2.26
Hermione: Rebecca Pownall

13. As You Like It
From Act 2
Duration: 1.59
Jaques: Philip Bird

14. The Merchant of Venice
From Act 4
Duration: 1.16
Portia: Natalie Thomas

15. The Two Gentlemen of Verona
From Act 4
Duration: 2.25
Launce: Matthew Mellalieu

16. Richard III
From Act 4
Duration: 2.25
Queen Margaret: Joan Walker

17. Richard III
From Act 1
Duration: 1.38
Gloucester: Colin Hurley

18. The Tempest
From Act 5
Duration: 2.09
Prospero : Hilton McRae

19. Twelfth Night
From Act 2
Duration: 2.58
Malvolio: Ben Crystal
Viola: Rebecca Pownall

20. The Comedy of Errors
From Act 3
Duration: 3.37
Antipholus of Syracuse: Colin Hurley
Dromio of Syracuse: Benjamin O’Mahony

21. Romeo and Juliet
From Act 2
Duration: 3.42
Romeo: Benjamin O’Mahony
Juliet: Natalie Thomas

22. Much Ado about Nothing
From Act 4
Duration: 3.52
Benedick: Ben Crystal
Beatrice: Rebecca Pownall

23. Julius Caesar
From Act 3
Duration: 3.10
First Plebeian: Benjamin O’Mahony
Third Plebeian: Colin Hurley
Antony: Philip Bird
Fourth Plebeian: David Crystal
Second Plebeian: Rebecca Pownall

24. Twelfth Night
From Act 3
Duration: 4.01
Feste: Hilton McRae
Viola : Rebecca Pownall

25. Hamlet
From Act 2
Duration: 5.20
Hamlet: Ben Crystal
Rosencrantz: Simon Manyonda
Guildenstern: Benjamin O’Mahony

26. Othello
From Act 4
Duration: 4.25
Desdemona: Natalie Thomas
Æmilia: Joan Walker

27. King Lear
From Act 1
Duration: 5.46
King Lear: Hilton McRae
Goneril: Suzanne Sylvester
Cordelia: Natalie Thomas
Regan: Rebecca Pownall

28. Macbeth
From Act 2
Duration: 6.14
Lennox: Simon Manyonda
Macbeth: Colin Hurley
Macduff: Philip Bird
Lady Macbeth: Suzanne Sylvester
Banquo: Matthew Mellalieu
Donalbain: Benjamin O’Mahony
Malcolm: Ben Crystal

For more information:

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+44 (0) 20 7412 7150

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