*Disclaimer: we don’t have anything against Shakespeare in RP, but after someone complained about the Yorkshire accents at our production of As You Like It, it seems we still have work to do… 

1- Some Shakespeare puns just don’t make sense in RP.

Shakespeare’s plays were intended to be spoken in Original Pronunciation, which nowadays is more comparable to something like Irish, Yorkshire and West Country accents all mixed together. Watch this YouTube video to get an idea of how it sounded.

This means that some things that Shakespeare wrote are literally puns based on accent and pronunciation. An example of a Shakespeare pun lost to history is the pronunciation of “hour” in As You Like It:

And so from hour to hour we ripe and ripe.
And then from hour to hour we rot and rot.
And thereby hangs a tale.

In Early Modern English, “hour” was pronounced more like the word “whore”. Much like how a Yorkshire person’s T’s get dropped, H-dropping was regularly observed. The change in pronunciation of both words in Modern English means that a naughty pun is missed today. Also, in the line “thereby hangs a tale,” – tale was Elizabethan slang for penis! 

96 of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets contain rhymes that have since been lost to linguistic history. If you want to find out more about Original Pronunciation, check out the father-son pair: linguist David Crystal and actor/author Ben Crystal, who are some of the main scholars behind Original Pronunciation. Ben says the more colloquial speech loosens up actors and transforms the way they speak the lines. The same can be said for regional accents today.

2 –  It helps you get over the language barrier

We’re the first to admit that Shakespeare’s plots can confuse and bewilder. Characters pretend to be people they’re not. People play multiple roles. There are riddles, jokes and references from 500 years ago. Language is often rhetorical and there are elaborate metaphors and deceptions, which can be hard to follow. 

We’ve had so many audiences over the years say that hearing Shakespeare in their own accent FINALLY made it make sense to them, or made it feel like it belonged to them. Hearing those famous words in something that resembles your own accent removes one barrier and makes it feel a step closer to home! 

3 – We need to champion Northern artists

Things have certainly changed since we burst onto the scene 30 years ago. Drama Schools up and down the country are now encouraging students to do Shakespeare in their own voice (no matter which character they play) and are questioning the presumption that RP is the ‘proper way’. But we still have work to do. There are regional actors who think that a ‘Native RP’ accent on their CV will make them look better. There are audience members who complain that Yorkshire people can’t do Shakespeare. If our stages are truly to reflect the world we live in, we need to represent a wide range of voices on stage, in film and TV, without the stereotypes. Why can’t Romeo be from Wakefield? Why can’t Iago be from Liverpool? Othello from Birmingham? 

Who says?