Cover image for Pronouncing Shakespeare's words : a guide from A to Zounds
Pronouncing Shakespeare's words : a guide from A to Zounds
Coye, Dale F.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, 1998.
Physical Description:
xvi, 724 pages ; 24 cm
Reading Level:
1210 Lexile.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PR3081 .C87 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Shakespeare is the most influential poet and playwright of the English language. Any good edition of his works includes notes on the meanings of obscure words, names, and phrases, but no edition gives any guidance on pronunciation. Students, actors, and even Shakespearean experts rely on guesswork or must consult a specialized dictionary when confronting unusual words. This volume is an authoritative resource that allows readers to quickly find the correct pronunciation of any difficult word in Shakespeare's works.

In order to determine which pronunciations are actually in use today, 100 Shakespearean scholars and dramaturges from the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom were asked for their recommendations on over 300 controversial words. This survey together with research from a variety of dictionaries and linguistic studies are the authorities for the pronunciations given here. Pronouncing Shakespeare's Words is written for a general audience and not solely for experts. Readers will find the language straightforward, and pronunciations are given in a clear, simple form. Variants are listed for the U.S., Canada, and the U.K., and the listings indicate which are most frequently used within that country, which are older or traditional, and which are nonstandard. Helpful appendices, including a brief overview of pronunciation in Elizabethan England and special notes on selected words and word endings, are also included.

Author Notes

DALE F. COYE is Assistant Professor of English at The College of New Jersey.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

How should today's actors, teachers, and readers of Shakespeare pronounce lineament (Romeo and Juliet, act 1 scene 3, line 83)? Is there a difference between the preferred U.S., Canadian, and U.K. pronunciations of Rosaline, a character in the same play? What is the pronunciation of shrowd (meaning harsh) in the poem Venus and Adonis? And compare/contrast the U.S.-, Canadian-, and U.K.-recommended pronunciations of Adonis. These are typical examples in what the compiler (an assistant professor of English at the College of New Jersey) terms a straightforward guide to "all the words in Shakespeare's plays and poems which the average college student or actor might find difficult to pronounce." It is not about how Shakespeare might have pronounced his words. It is, rather, a guide to how the words are pronounced today, based on a survey of American, Canadian, and British Shakespearean scholars for their recommendations as well as research in dictionaries and other linguistic works. More than 3,400 words are treated, including uncommon words, common words whose pronunciation varies, words stressed differently in current English, proper names, and foreign phrases. The Riverside Shakespeare (1974) was chosen as the basic text. The introduction discusses various problems with modern English pronunciation, including losing rhymes and maintaining the meter. Each play appears in alphabetical order. Characters and places in the play are listed first, with other words listed by scene in the order in which they appear. Following the plays, six poems appear in A^-Z order. Many word entries provide brief definitions as well as pronunciation guidelines. Preceding the entries for plays and poems are two helpful lists, one of the most common "hard" words in Shakespeare (which are not included in the individual play entries because they occur so often) and one of the most common reduced forms. The volume concludes with five appendixes, of which appendix A (common words with more than one standard pronunciation in today's English) may be the most useful, a bibliography, an index of words, and a subject index (British English, received pronunciation, New England pronunciations, Welsh accent, etc.). Pronouncing Shakespeare's Words is an authoritative resource that will undoubtedly be extremely useful to actors, students, teachers, and general readers of Shakespeare. Recommended for academic, public, and high-school libraries, though its price may put it out of reach for some.

Library Journal Review

For this specialized guide, Coye (Coll. of New Jersey) pulled together surveys from 100 Shakespearean scholars to determine the correct pronunciation of over 300 words from Shakespeare's plays and poems, seemingly every word necessary for a reasonable reader. The resulting reference, which utilizes The Riverside Shakespeare (Classic Returns, LJ 1/98) as the base text (though a word index does provide access for readers using other editions), is a unique and useful tool. An exhaustive introduction precedes a phonetic pronunciation guide that includes definitions. Organized by play or poem, words are given in the order in which they appear in a linear reading. Lists at the beginning of each work contain pronunciation guides for place and proper names, the most common "hard" words, and the most common reduced forms. In addition, five appendixes cover common words with more than one standard pronunciation, common archaic forms, the vowel system in American and British English, special notes on selected words, and pronunciation in Elizabethan England. Though most good editions of Shakespeare's work include some pronunciation guidance and many of the words in this resource are found in dictionaries, this is still the only collection of established scholarly opinion on pronunciation and one of the few resources providing guidance for place and proper names. This work will greatly benefit students and professors of Shakespearean literature and drama and is recommended for academic libraries supporting these departments.¬ĎNeal Wyatt, Chesterfield Cty. P.L., VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Editions of Shakespeare's works give no guidance concerning pronunciation. The OED does not list place-names or proper names or give pronunciation for archaic words. Glossaries like Helge K"okeritz's Shakespeare's Names (1959) or Shakespeare's Pronunciation (1953) are "incorrect in their American versus British distinctions." Fausto Cercignani's Shakespeare's Works and Elizabethan Pronunciation (1981) focuses on the development of the Elizabethan sound system, and Kristin Linklater's Freeing Shakespeare's Voice (1992) does not assist readers with line-by-line difficulties. Coye's guide, based on research by Shakespearean scholars in the US, Canada, and Britain, offers recommendations on how to pronounce Shakespeare's words as they "are pronounced today." Actors, readers, and students and teachers of Shakespeare will find Coye's guide authoritative and comprehensive. Using the Riverside edition, the guide lists by act, scene, and line all the words and names in Shakespeare's works "which the average college student or actor might find difficult to pronounce." Instead of the International Phonetic Alphabet, Coye uses the system found in US dictionaries in which letter symbols are keyed to simple vowels and consonants. "Speakers will substitute the sounds of these key-words as they normally pronounce them in whatever dialect they speak." A pronunciation key is provided at the bottom of each recto page. Recommended for public, college, and theater libraries . P. Kujoory; Southern Methodist University

Table of Contents

Pronunciation Key
A Pronouncing Guide to the Plays and Poems
The Plays
The Poems
Appendix A Common Words with More than One Standard Pronunciation in Today's English
Appendix B Common Archaic Forms in Shakespeare
Appendix C The Vowel Systems of North American and British English
Appendix D Special Notes on Selected Words, Word Endings, and Prefixes
Index of Words
Subject Index