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English pronunciation in Elizabethan times


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#16 Sylvette

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Posted 03 May 2019 - 15:28

 

One of the classic lost Elizabethan rhymes is in the last verse of Thomas Morley's "Now is the month of maying":

 

Say, dainty nymphs, and speak,

Shall we play barley-break?

 

For Morley, "speak" and "break" rhymed, but any modern attempt to make them do so is bound to sound artificial unless the whole thing is being sung in period pronunciation. Even then it probably won't work. The problem with period pronunciation is that it absolutely must be done in a manner that sounds entirely natural and unselfconscious and this almost never happens. Usually it sounds like a send-up, which a genuinely natural accent won't (and we all get to hear plenty these days).  So, personally, I wouldn't bother about it. If you feel really nerdy (which I admit I never have), get stuck into chapter 4 (p.90) of this excellent book.

The north Kent/SE London accent would make them pretty close to a rhyme.  When we lived in Orpington my wife would occasionally comment on "queen" pronounced rather close to "quane".

 

A broad midlands accent does it as well. 


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#17 Vox Humana

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Posted 03 May 2019 - 16:51

 

The north Kent/SE London accent would make them pretty close to a rhyme.  When we lived in Orpington my wife would occasionally comment on "queen" pronounced rather close to "quane".

A broad midlands accent does it as well. 

I think that would probably be nearer the Elizabethan version.


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#18 Gordon Shumway

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Posted 08 May 2019 - 14:10

I've just been thinking about the words of Weelkes's extraordinary madrigal, "Thule, the period of cosmography", and wondered about the rhymes.  The verse lines are pentameters, with endings "phy", "fire", "sky", "higher", "turns", "dishes", "burns", "fishes".  The chorus endings are "I", "fry".  It was first first published in 1600, according to IMSLP.  I remember reading in one of Robert Graves's books that the Elizabethans never did eye rhymes, in which case we ought to pronounce the last syllable of "cosmography" to rhyme with "sky", "I" and "fry".  Does anyone do this? I never did in the days that I sang madrigals.

I don't know the answer, but I'd warn that Robert Graves is often an unreliable source. Having said that, he was a well regarded English poet, wasn't he*, so he should be reliable in that area. Otoh, "never" is a slippery word, and better people than Graves have slipped on it.

* I only know him from his insane Greek Myths and White Goddess, and Goodbye to all That and I Claudius, which I found unreadable.

 

I have similar trouble with say Latin hexameters - is rhyming/scansion about a rigid rule or is it just about sufficient frequency for the style to be clear? More specifically, does the ictus fall on the penultimate syllable of every Latin hexameter, or just enough of them for the style to be clear? Similarly, are half-rhymes really absolutely banned or are they acceptable as long as the general rhyming scheme is clear?


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#19 kenm

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Posted 12 May 2019 - 07:16

 

I've just been thinking about the words of Weelkes's extraordinary madrigal, "Thule, the period of cosmography", and wondered about the rhymes.  The verse lines are pentameters, with endings "phy", "fire", "sky", "higher", "turns", "dishes", "burns", "fishes".  The chorus endings are "I", "fry".  It was first first published in 1600, according to IMSLP.  I remember reading in one of Robert Graves's books that the Elizabethans never did eye rhymes, in which case we ought to pronounce the last syllable of "cosmography" to rhyme with "sky", "I" and "fry".  Does anyone do this? I never did in the days that I sang madrigals.

I don't know the answer, but I'd warn that Robert Graves is often an unreliable source. Having said that, he was a well regarded English poet, wasn't he*, so he should be reliable in that area. Otoh, "never" is a slippery word, and better people than Graves have slipped on it.

* I only know him from his insane Greek Myths and White Goddess, and Goodbye to all That and I Claudius, which I found unreadable.

 

I have similar trouble with say Latin hexameters - is rhyming/scansion about a rigid rule or is it just about sufficient frequency for the style to be clear? More specifically, does the ictus fall on the penultimate syllable of every Latin hexameter, or just enough of them for the style to be clear? Similarly, are half-rhymes really absolutely banned or are they acceptable as long as the general rhyming scheme is clear?

 

I agree that his history is idiosyncratic and his arguments often at variance with the evidence.  The work that I most value is his cooperation with Alan Hodge, "The reader over your shoulder".  This is a guide to writing English with selections of muddled writing from writers who were well-known at the time (c. 1940), analysed and  revised.  A second edition was shortened, so get the first if you can.


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#20 Gordon Shumway

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Posted 12 May 2019 - 08:35

I wonder how it melds with Empson's Seven Types of Ambiguity? I enjoyed that a lot.


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#21 kenm

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Posted 13 May 2019 - 12:17

Empson had a greater range of education than Graves.  He turned to the study of English only after having gained a 1st in Part I Maths, and a 2.1 in Part 2 at Cambridge. He was capable of very detailed and precise argument; also poetry in a very strict rhyming framework that requires close study to determine its meanings.*  I suppose one could argue that chapters six to nine of "The reader over your shoulder" [ROYS] cover a similar territory to Empson's literary criticism, with its interest in multiple meanings, but the aim of ROYS is different: to teach the writer to present his/her thoughts in a form that is easy to read and unambiguous.

 

* A personal categorisation: organised sound can be divided into three main groups, in which utterances have no meaning, one meaning or multiple meanings. Naming these music, prose and poetry is only approximate.  Symphonic poems (in which I would include Leonora No 3, "Till Elenspiegel" and "L'apprenti sorcier" as examples) are in the second category, for those who understand their language, as are many lyrics and some poetry; some prose ("Finnegan's wake") is in the third.


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