Shakespeare Talked Like A Pirate

In honor of Talk Like A Pirate Day, a short documentary demonstrates that English in Shakespeare's time sounded like Pirate.

Yaaaaaar, today be Talk Like A Pirate Day.  It is an utterly silly day where people look for excuses to sound like pirates.  We are not entirely sure why the 19th of September was picked for the day, but details.  Still, the pirate accent is not entirely a fiction, and has its modern descendent in the city of Cornwall in England.  However, there was a time the "pirate accent" was dominant in England, and a very intriguing time at that:  The early 1600s, around the same time of William Shakespeare.  In fact, all of Shakespeare's plays were done originally in an accent similar to pirate.

In the 10-minute documentary shown above, English linguist David Crystal, along with his actor son Ben, discuss how the English language has evolved in the four centuries since Shakespeare first wrote his plays.  The accent of English that English people used in the early 1600s is based on what is called "Early Modern English," which can sound confusing at times in a normal accent, based on its different rules for grammar and sentence order.  As demonstrated in the video, the accent Shakespeare likely used, while it lacked all the yarrrrs and me hardys, still sounds distinctly like a pirate accent, at least how we imagine it.  Combined with the structure of 1600s English, one could argue that everyone in England in Shakespeare's time talked like a pirate, and thus the Bard likely staged their plays in the accent.

Of course, we did not have the machinery to record sound, so David Crystal relies on evidence through writer observations on language during that time period, the spelling of words, and evidence of rhymes and puns in the literature to reconstruct the English accent of Shakespeare's time.  David and Ben continually demonstrate the difference between the modern and piratey "original" accents, sometimes changing the meaning and performance of Shakespeare's writing outright, turning serious diatribes into hilarious jokes.

There is good reason David and Ben Crystal study this particular element of Shakespeare's time: They serve as advisors to the Globe Theatre in London, a reconstruction of the original Globe Theatre which Shakespeare staged his plays.  In the interests of staging his plays properly, the Globe Theatre uses not only the original design and construction of the Globe Theatre (with modern touches here and there), but stage many of Shakespeare's plays in the original costumes and stage designs.  It was not until 2004 with a performance of Romeo and Juliet that Shakespeare's plays were staged in the original pirate-like accent, due to fear of people not understanding it.  However, people have sold out several performances of these plays, proving that sometimes, arrrrrrt be arrrrrrrrt, matey.

(Image Sources:  Flickr: dlnwelch, John Hedtke)

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